Niagara College awarded grant for COVID-19 related research equipment

Samantha Jemison, a student in NC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program, calibrates an FDM 3D printer as a research assistant with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC). The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) award will fund the purchase of a biomedically compatible 3D printer for the Research & Innovation division for COVID-19 related research.

Niagara College will advance its COVID-19 related research after being granted close to $50,000 for the purchase of a biomedically compatible 3D printer for its Research & Innovation division.

The state-of-the-art 3D additive manufacturing equipment will be used by researchers at NC’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) at the Welland Campus.

The award, which is part of a special fund of $28 million in research infrastructure support, was announced on November 6 by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. Funding through the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) Exceptional Opportunities Fund will support 79 projects at 52 universities and research hospitals, colleges, polytechnics and Cégeps across Canada.

“Canadian researchers and scientists are helping to protect our health and safety and are key to finding our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bains. “With this funding through the Exceptional Opportunities Fund, the Government of Canada is ensuring these talented Canadians have the equipment and tools to support them in their very important work.”

Until now, WAMIC’s lab capability in this area has been limited to Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printers, which are not intended for biomedical material. With this funding and this equipment, research and development projects related to COVID-19 can proceed with the necessary biocompatible and liquid-tight parameters.

“The research infrastructure funded by CFI will expand Niagara College’s capacity to serve a wider array of people in need of specialized protection, testing and life-saving medical assistance,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, NC’s vice-president, Research and External Relations. “COVID-19 has highlighted the need for rapid, inclusive response to public health emergencies, and WAMIC’s research team responded by designing and manufacturing 37,000 face shields for front-line workers with Niagara Health [17,300] and other essential works in communities throughout Ontario [20,000].”

Rafael Almeida assembles face shields in a lab at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC). The WAMIC research team produced 37,000 face shields for essential workers in Niagara and beyond to respond to COVID-19-related medical needs. Almeida, a graduate (2020) of NC’s Computer Programming program, worked as a research assistant with WAMIC until August 2020.

The new biomedically compatible 3D printer will equip NC researchers with the ability to continue COVID-19 related research and development in areas such as addressing special needs modifications to face shields/masks, 3D-printed nasal swabs and a patient-administered saliva collector.

This specialized equipment will also advance the engineering work already done by the WAMIC team in its project with McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) in developing a 3D-printed video laryngoscope sheath prototype used in COVID-19 patients needing intubation. The project was part of an emergency scenario to prepare for potential supply-chain interruptions.

For clinical patient use, such a device needs to be printed with biocompatible material. Because a parametric CAD model now exists, should a resurgence of infections occur, the 3D printer will enable WAMIC to locally supply laryngoscope inventory matched to observed patient larynx size – avoiding wrong size order delays and waste, added Nantel.

This is welcome news for Amir Gill, Niagara Health’s director of Engineering, Facilities, Biomed, Capital Planning. “With high interest, we are elated to learn of the laryngoscope development,” said Gill. “Supply chains remain insecure and this source is a welcome alternative.”

When it comes to future COVID-19 research with the new 3D printing capabilities, Gill said he supports the methodology of patients being able to collect samples at home, and bring them in for rapid result interpretation to help control community transmission of the disease.

“This proposed process, if adopted, has the potential of reduced face-to-face testing interaction and hence increases safety for health-care professionals,” said Gill.

About the Canada Foundation for Innovation

For more than 20 years, the CFI has been giving researchers the tools they need to think big and innovate. Fostering a robust innovation system in Canada translates into jobs and new enterprises, better health, cleaner environments and, ultimately, vibrant communities. By investing in state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in Canada’s universities, colleges, research hospitals and non-profit research institutions, the CFI also helps to attract and retain the world’s top talent, to train the next generation of researchers and to support world-class research that strengthens the economy and improves the quality of life for all Canadians.

About NC’s Research & Innovation Division

NC’s award-winning Research & Innovation division provides real-world solutions for business, key industry sectors, and the community through applied research and knowledge transfer activities. Researchers conduct projects that provide innovative solutions, such as producing and testing prototypes, evaluating new technologies, and developing new or improved products or processes for small- and medium-sized businesses and community partners. With funding support from various regional, provincial and federal agencies, students and graduates are hired to work alongside faculty researchers to assist industry and community partners leap forward in the marketplace.

Niagara College offers more than 150 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information, visit