R&I admin team steps in to help assemble face shields for essential workers

Production underway at Welland Campus for 37,000 face shields

UPDATE: In an effort to scale up the number of face shields produced for essential front-line workers in Niagara, and beyond, members of the Research & Innovation division’s administration team have jumped in to lend a hand to workers at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre. The extra support has taken assembly from 350 units to 500 units assembled per day.​

Niagara College researchers are providing innovative solutions to help those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic and are leading a network of Ontario academic institutions who are mobilizing to do the same.

The NC-led consortium under the umbrella of the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) is answering a call from the federal government to provide a high-quality, rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis and meet the need for critical health supplies. All seven of SONAMI’s academic partners are taking action to combat the health crisis, including Niagara, Conestoga, Fanshawe, Lambton, Mohawk and Sheridan colleges, and McMaster University.

Since 2016, the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) has invested more $20 million in support of SONAMI’s growth efforts in the manufacturing innovation ecosystem. Thanks to flexibilities introduced by FedDev Ontario in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SONAMI and its member institutions have been able to harness their expertise and pivot their operations to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by building a supply of essential equipment, products and therapeutics for Canadians.

“Now, more than ever, we must continue to come together to find solutions that will support the health of Canadians and our businesses. I sincerely thank Niagara College, SONAMI and other member institutions that are answering the call to action to provide critical support to our country during this fight against COVID-19,” said the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for FedDev Ontario. “We have the backs of Canadians throughout this crisis and it is through the dedicated work of partners that we are able to respond to this challenge and prepare for economic recovery.”

“These important and responsive projects, enabled through an increased budgetary flexibility by FedDev Ontario, are supporting the dual goals of immediately helping those most in need during this crisis and of fighting against COVID-19 more generally,” said Marc Nantel, PhD, Niagara College’s vice-president of Research, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives, and chair of the SONAMI Steering Committee. “It’s heartening to see these tremendous efforts from our SONAMI members who have jumped in to find innovative ways to help many people across the province and the country.”

In addition to the donation of thousands of medical and cleaning supplies, and personal protection equipment on behalf of their respective postsecondary institutions, their advanced manufacturing and research divisions are meeting the critical need for health supplies and services – everything from face shields to ventilators, and biomedical research, to innovative software to help stop the further spread of the outbreak. View list of SONAMI COVID-19 projects here.

Niagara College innovates ‘Made in Niagara’ solutions

Research assistant Tyler Winger (an NC electrical Engineering Technology graduate) assembles face shields at the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre

Within the research labs at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), staff members are producing 37,000 face shields. They are currently filling an order of 17,000 for the Niagara Health System (NHS) and other emergency responders in Niagara in response to an increased demand for protective equipment.

The WAMIC research team created the face-shield design and prototype, and have partnered with local company Jay-Line for its die-cutting services to accelerate the number of plastic visors pressed. WAMIC staff are completing the face shields with foam and Velcro, and are currently producing upwards of 500 units per day.

The face shields will be supplied at no cost to the NHS and other emergency responders in the Niagara region. The material to produce the face shields alone is valued at more than $100,000, made possible through the support of FedDev Ontario.

In addition to responding to local healthcare organizations, the College’s Research & Innovation division has received approval for a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL Class 1) to produce Health Canada-classified face shields in order to supply to other hospitals outside of the Niagara region. About 20,000 units will be donated out of region, with assembly completed at WAMIC.

Inside the advanced manufacturing labs at the Welland Campus, staff members working on the ‘production line’ include two recent NC graduates, research assistant Tyler Winger (Electrical Engineering Technology, 2019) and research associate Brock Husak (Mechanical Engineering Technology, 2018).

For Winger, getting his first taste of production, even on a smaller scale, has been educational.

“I’m learning a great deal – from delivery of raw materials, preparing the raw materials into the parts needed to make a shield, assembling the shield, packaging and delivery of the shields, and being involved in getting the correct certifications,” said Winger. “To be able to contribute and do my part to the community has been a rewarding experience.”

Husak noted that it has been rewarding to help brave local hospital staff during these challenging times.

“It’s also nice knowing that our quality is very close to the quality of the normal shields that medical staff are used to,” said Husak. “One time after delivering a batch of shields to Niagara Health, a staff member in the shipping and receiving area said, ‘Niagara College? Yes! The nurses love your masks; thank you for donating them.’”

NC’s WAMIC research team is also supporting McMaster University researchers in their project to develop 3D-printed laryngoscopes for Hamilton Health Sciences. With some hospitals running out of laryngoscopes – which are needed for the intubation procedure for patients requiring assisted ventilation – and preparing for a potential supply-chain interruption, McMaster sought the expertise of NC’s WAMIC engineers to reverse-engineer sample units. The laryngoscopes will be manufactured by McMaster.

WAMIC’s activities are in addition to a college-wide effort at Niagara College. In early April, the College donated 30,000 personal protective items to the Niagara Health Foundation.

Staff members at NC’s Teaching Distillery – based at the College’s Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake – have been running the stills since mid-March to produce disinfectant products, with help from the College’s Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery, and SONAMI funding from FedDev. The products are being donated to front-line healthcare and community organizations in Niagara.

For a complete list of projects underway at SONAMI institutions visit: