Industry partners stepping up to help frontline workers

Several past and current industry partners with NC’s Research & Innovation division are donating to or pivoting their businesses to help fight the pandemic. Some are contributing money for medical equipment and resources, while others have completely shifted their production to items to keep health-care workers safe on the front lines.

“We are proud to be affiliated with these companies and associations, as each one has readily demonstrated their generosity, ingenuity and willingness to do what they can in these unprecedented times,” notes Carolyn Mullin, associate director, Strategic Partnerships, Research & Innovation. “These all happen to be the same qualities that have made them excellent applied research project partners for us.”



Members of the Niagara Industrial Association (NIA) have raised $110,000 for the Niagara Health Foundation to purchase ventilators and other essential hospital supplies to help improve outcomes for patients through the COVID-19 pandemic.

A fundraising effort launched at the beginning of April led by NIA co-founder Joe DeMan generated swift response and generosity from its membership.

Twenty-six companies, along with the NIA itself, contributed to the effort – several of whom are also past or current industry partners with Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, which is also an NIA member.

“The majority of NIA’s members – small- and medium-sized manufacturers and associated service providers – are essential to the maintenance of the critical supply chains in our economy,” says Don Cyr, NIA president. “They are particularly sensitive to the needs of people in the Niagara health care system, who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle.”

DeMan also praised the effort of Wendy Smith, the NIA’s operations manager, as being a “tireless support for us through this fundraiser. We cannot thank her enough.”

NIA members “answered our call for help at this critical time,” says Roger Ali, president & CEO of Niagara Health Foundation. “I am grateful for their support and how quickly they stepped up to raise $110,000 in such a short time frame.

“It speaks volumes to the heart and soul of these leaders, and the genuine concern they have for our community.”

Formed in 2007, the NIA is the leading voice and advocate for the manufacturing sector in Niagara. The Association pursues business development opportunities, provides its members with important industry information, and builds strategic partnerships and leverages programs and services that support industrial development.



Niagara Falls-based Hamill Machine Company Inc. is putting its 3D printers to widespread use in producing ‘ear savers’ for local front-line workers.

Ear savers, which come in a variety of forms and materials, are an innovative way to relieve the pressure on one’s ears while wearing a protective mask. Many essential workers are required to wear protective face masks for many hours.

Hamill’s product offers a 3D-printed plastic band that offers various sizing options for the face mask to attach to at the back of the head and can be sanitized and re-worn. The company has to date donated 400 of the ear savers to health workers in Niagara’s hospitals, says Bob Benner CEO, Hamill Agricultural Processing Solutions (APS).

Hamill APS has also pivoted its agricultural processing equipment production to develop a self-contained UV sanitizing system for personal protective equipment, such as face masks.

“It’s very simple to use and can run 24 hours a day,” says Benner, adding the unit can easily sit in any hallway ready for use.

“It is a conveyor-belt style, so you place your mask or item that you want sanitized onto the belt and remove it once it passes through the machine.”

The technology was originally designed for the microgreens industry and is being adapted for the sanitization application.

The Research & Innovation engineering team at Niagara College worked with Hamill APS to develop a new product line of agri-food equipment that automates the harvesting (cutting, washing and drying) of microgreens, sprouts and wheatgrass. The success of the project was possible thanks to support received through Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), an NC-led consortium of seven academic institutions funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

Hamill has been a long-time industry partner with the R&I division, and has worked with the research teams at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) and the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC).

Hamill Machine began as a general machine shop in 1948. Today they manufacture cutting-edge solutions for a variety of industries including wine and food producers in the US and Canada. They recently launched Hamill APS, a new subsidiary focused solely on the agricultural sector.



A local entrepreneur has pivoted operations from manufacturing their award-winning assistive devices for people with mobility issues to producing face shields for the local healthcare system.

In January, Niagara Falls-based start-up Bisep Inc. began full-scale manufacturing of its new medical device that helps connect a person’s wheelchair to their walker, enabling unaided movement as it acts as a security bridge. The invention, named the ARMM (Ambulation, Retraining, Mobility, and Mechanism), is the brainchild of Bisep CEO and founder Daniel Bordenave.

Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) has worked with Bisep during the initial concept of its ARMM device, through to development of a final prototype thanks to support received through Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), an NC-led consortium of seven academic institutions funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).

Bisep was in the process of manufacturing 1,000 units at Spark Niagara, a small manufacturing facility in Niagara Falls, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Bordenave has now shifted his operation to address the call for much-needed face shields to help frontline health and other essential workers.

Bordenave has converted his home office into a small-scale production facility where he is 3D printing and assembling the face shields and has teamed up with the Niagara Falls Ryerson Innovation Hub (NFRIH), to assist with distribution.

“After I print and assemble the face shields, I leave the box on my porch for a colleague of mine, David Robitaille from the NFRIH, to pick up and attach the hairbands and then drop them off to the frontline workers who need them,” says Bordenave.

He credits the successful face shield initiative to the support he’s receiving from the NFRIH and Spark Niagara. “They have helped to secure the supply chain of materials, as well as aided in the manufacturing and distribution of the shields.”

He is currently producing 100 face shields per week and donating to local hospitals, long-term care and retirement homes in addition to frontline essential workers who are helping in areas such as food banks.

“Essentially, Bisep is just returning the support we gained from the Niagara healthcare system, including the hospitals, the Niagara Region’s long term care facilities and retirement homes, as well as our local private healthcare facilities.”

Bordenave is asking if anyone is interested in helping to support this initiative, or knows of any facility that needs shields, to contact him at [email protected].