A network of academic institutions in Ontario’s manufacturing sector is responding to an urgent need to protect the health and safety of communities and those on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, the federal government put out a call to action to manufacturers with equipment or facilities to provide a high-quality, rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis and meet the need for critical health supplies.
All seven academic partners in the Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI), a Niagara College-led consortium of seven academic institutions that supports manufacturer’s R&D needs through applied research projects, have answered that call and are taking action to combat the health crisis.
The SONAMI network, which is currently in its second phase after a major reinvestment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), includes post-secondary members Conestoga, Fanshawe, Lambton, Mohawk, Niagara and Sheridan Colleges and McMaster University.
Thanks to funding support from FedDev Ontario, SONAMI and its member institutions are engaged in a number of special projects to support companies and communities as they actively respond to the epidemic, by building a Canadian supply of essential equipment, products and therapeutics.
“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 post-secondary institutions, their advanced manufacturing and research divisions are meeting the critical need for health supplies and services – everything from face shields to ventilators, and medical research, to innovative software to help stop the further spread of the outbreak.
At the Research & Innovation labs at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC), researchers are engaged in the production of 37,000 face shields – currently filling an order of 17,000 for the Niagara Health System in response to their increased demand for the protective equipment – as well as to other emergency responders in the region.
The WAMIC research team created the face shield design and prototype, improving upon previous iterations shared online, and they’ve partnered with a local industry partner Jay-Line for its die-cutting services to accelerate the number of plastic shields pressed. WAMIC staff are completing the face shields with foam and Velcro and are currently producing upwards of 350 units per day, with plans underway to scale up even further.
In addition to responding to local healthcare organizations, the College’s Research & Innovation division has received temporary 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.
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 a supply chain interruption, McMaster sought the expertise of NC’s WAMIC engineers to reverse-engineer sample units. The laryngoscopes will be manufactured by McMaster.
At NC’s Teaching Distillery, Brewery and Winery, workers are producing disinfectant products and are being donated to front-line healthcare and community organizations in Niagara.
In Kitchener, researchers at Conestoga’s SMART (Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies) Centre are co-developing a software application that will help critical supply chain workers maintain physical distancing during an emergency like the current pandemic.
The prototype is being developed through an applied research project with Conestoga Cold Storage (CCS), a distribution and warehousing company that operates five highly automated cold storage warehouses in Canada and sees hundreds of truck drivers move between its facilities daily.
The technology uses geofencing to monitor truck drivers as they approach CCS facilities, automatically processing the order, and eliminating the need for any in-person contact. With the current emphasis on physical distancing in place, discussions around how to further enhance the system are also taking place.
In Hamilton, the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) is working on numerous projects to respond to the health crisis.
MMRI has partnered with Whitebird Manufacturing to repurpose the company’s existing equipment to produce face shields for Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) without 3D printers. A local food packaging company has also offered rolls of plastic to make into shields, and local company Bra-Makers Supply is supplying elastic material for the face shield’s headband.
Working with Hamilton Health Science (HHS), MMRI is focused on using its resources to validate the functional performance of existing ventilator designs to meet COVID-19 specific requirements after hearing reports that some of the current ventilators are not working as well as they had hoped to support patients.
The research team is also working to supply HHS with 3D printed laryngoscopes to allow for intubation of patients while avoiding face-to-face contact, in order to minimize transfer of the virus. This is being established as an emergency supply scenario should supply chain interruptions occur. MMRI is working with Niagara College’s WAMIC in the reverse engineering process.
The research team has partnered with APMA (Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association) in a project to develop a process for mass sterilizing masks that others can use to support their mask production. They are also identifying high volumes of material that can be repurposed for personal protective equipment.
The MMRI team has also partnered with the diagnostic imaging department at Hamilton General Hospital, who have requested four specialized Lexan mobile guards to provide protection for ultrasound technicians.
Sarnia’s Lambton Manufacturing Innovation Centre (LMIC) at Lambton College has partnered with a local craft brewery, Refined Fool Brewing Company, to help them in the production of distilling alcohol to produce hand sanitizer for donation to Bluewater Heath. Their current mission is to provide 3,500 litres per week, initially. Part of the goal is to help the industry partner continue distilling alcohol in the future, with Lambton providing production training, lean manufacturing assistance and quality assurance/quality control.
The LMIC team is also working on rapid prototyping services for the design and fabrication of personal protective equipment for Bluewater Health. The health-care workers are currently using masks that require two filter cartridges, which are no longer available, so are looking to double the filter life by capping off one of the ports to use on cartridge at a time. The LAMIC teach is reverse engineering the masks and will design and print 150 caps with custom gasket seals that can be dismantled, sterilized and reassembled by hospital staff.
The researchers are also working with partner Link2Feed, a company that provides emergency food organizations with software solutions to better manage operations and resources. With physical distancing requirements in place, LIMIC is helping Link2Feed with a tool that will allow an online client enrollment tool.
London-based Fanshawe College, through its Centre for Research and Innovation (CRI), has partnered with KGK Sciences and Brock University for the development and testing of peptide inhibitors against SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The goal is to develop peptide inhibitors of the NSP10/NSP16 protein complex responsible for the 2’-O-Methylation in SARS-COV-2. It is believed that the peptides, used as a therapeutic agent, could help the immune system more quickly detect and fight against the virus.
Mohawk College’s Additive Manufacturing Resource Centre (AMIC) is answering the call for face shields to the Family Health Team in Cambridge.
AMIC’s research team is using their 3D printing technology to produce up to 1,000 face shield bands and assembling the elastic and visors received from an industry partner.
The Centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Design Technologies (CAMDT) at Sheridan College has a number of projects on the go.
For Trillium Health Partners (THP), the research team at CAMDT is 3D printing 1,000 head pieces for face shields, in addition to producing 1,000 mask ‘ear savers’ for front-line medical staff.
Hospital staff at the University Health Network’s Advanced Perioperative Imaging Lab is working with the CAMDT team in the design, testing and certification of reusable, foldable face shields that can be mass produced using laser-cutting or waterjet-cutting technology. The face shields have passed certification testing at a regulated laboratory.
And, for the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, the CAMDT team is manufacturing 4,500 certified reusable face shields based on a foldable design.
Since FedDev Ontario’s initial $7.3-million investment in 2016, the award-winning SONAMI has worked with more than 145 businesses to adopt next-generation manufacturing technologies and commercialize more than 144 products. With a growing client base, the consortium is slated to grow to 10 partners and enhance its reach into the manufacturing community.
Companies who have a project idea that will support this effort are asked to contact the SONAMI team to assess the project and connect you to the appropriate network partner: Kithio Mwanzia, SONAMI Network Manager, [email protected] or Sarah Dimick, SONAMI Project Manager, [email protected]