NC research team supporting COVID-19 efforts

Inside WAMIC labs, the 37,000 face shields are being assembled by research associate Brock Husak (top centre), a graduate of NC’s Mechanical Engineering Technology program and research assistant Tyler Winger (bottom left), an NC Electrical Engineering Technology graduate. R&I has partnered with Niagara-based Jay-Line for its die-cutting services.​

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 used computer-aided design to create the face shield prototype and has partnered with a local industry partner for its die-cutting services to accelerate the number of plastic visors pressed. Niagara-based Jay-Line is a trade-only manufacturer and commercial printer of promotional products and marketing materials. 

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 to 800 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 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. 

Inside the advanced manufacturing labs at the Welland campus, the “production line” includes research assistant Tyler Winger, an NC Electrical Engineering Technology graduate and research associate Brock Husak, a graduate of the Mechanical Engineering Technology program.

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.

“To be able to contribute and do my part to the community has been a rewarding experience,” says Winger.

It has certainly been interesting switching gears from “research and innovation” to assembly line work for Husak, however, he says it’s all worth it knowing he’s helping the 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,” Husak says. “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.’”

The WAMIC research team is also supporting McMaster University researchers in their project to develop 3D-printed laryngoscopes for Hamilton Health Sciences. Laryngoscopes are needed to guide the placement of a tube during the intubation procedure for patients needing assisted ventilation. Some hospitals may be unable to get laryngoscopes from usual suppliers and have no access to the drawings. To prepare for a supply chain interruption, WAMIC engineers are reverse engineering sample units and McMaster will manufacture.

WAMIC’s activities are in addition to a college-wide effort to donate more than 30,000 personal protective items to the Niagara Health Foundation for its front-line workers. The items were collected from various program areas and departments across the College’s two campuses. 

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 Ontario. The products are being donated to front-line healthcare and community organizations in Niagara.

The special advanced manufacturing projects through R&I’s WAMIC labs are possible thanks to funding support from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), through the NC-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI).  

Niagara College is one of seven academic members of SONAMI that have mobilized in the fight against the health crisis. Read more about their efforts here.

“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, NC’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.” 

For more information about the applied research and technical services offered at R&I’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre, visit the website.