Canadian Manufacturing

The journey through supply chain issues and COVID-19 hurdles: How 3M Canada set up PPE production in Brockville, Ont.

In seven months, 3M Canada managed to set up their expanded manufacturing operations and began shipping N95 respirators across Canada.

May 12, 2022   by Sadi Muktadir

The journey through supply chain issues and COVID-19 hurdles: How 3M Canada set up PPE production in Brockville, Ont.

Masks were scarce in early 2020, and respirators even scarcer. The need for PPE, especially in the healthcare industry, led to many global manufacturing titans pivoting operations and expanding capabilities to address this need.

3M Canada saw an opportunity to increase and expand their market presence in the Canadian market by addressing the shortage of N95 respirators across hospitals and healthcare facilities.

In late 2020, 3M Canada rapidly expanded their manufacturing capabilities in Brockville, Ont. to address the healthcare industry’s need for respirators.

In seven months, 3M Canada managed set up their expanded manufacturing operations and began shipping N95 respirators across Canada.

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The Brockville, Ont. facility was already a medical product manufacturing facility so the pivot to N95 respirators was a strong fit, according to Penny Wise, President and Managing Director of 3M Canada.

“Some of the areas we saw challenges in were making sure our operators in Brockville were ready to start running the machines as soon as they were ready. A lot of the training was done in the U.S. and it was a challenge getting people across the border and navigating those regulations,” Penny says.

When asked about the labour shortage, and if 3M Canada was experiencing the side effects of the labour shortage plaguing manufacturing, Penny Wise was optimistic.

“Industrial policy will help us understand what kinds of skills shortages we have and what we will need in the future. We need to make sure our population here is equipped for the future,” says Penny. “I’m really excited a program that we have here called STEM Talks. 68% of Canadians believe that underrepresented populations don’t have access to STEM education and STEM career opportunities. We’re working with experts and advocates to understand why aren’t they, and how can we get them to have those opportunities.”

Penny recognizes that some sectors have been hit harder than others, and are faced with absenteeism and mentions that 3M is not immune to some of these effects.

“In a connected, social media-savvy world, there are more accessible ways to connect with prospective talent then there may have been in the past,” Penny says, when asked about how their talent acquisition strategy has evolved to address the need for more underrepresented groups within the manufacturing industry.

3M Canada was also asked how regulations and the federal government and the Ontario government may have helped or hampered their manufacturing production.

“The federal government and Ontario government were partners with us in the expansion of our facility and making sure that we could produce on time. One of the aspects of being Canadian that I really admire is that we do work for the good of people. So in that way we came together to make sure that we could support Canadian healthcare workers.”

Currently, the focus at 3M Canada is in moving away from the healthcare industry, which is now well-stocked with respirators and PPE, and towards industrial workers and other sectors which have a need for respirators and other kinds of PPE beyond masks.

“Making sure people are properly protected across the economy is a focus for us. The market has shifted, and businesses are now more focused on making sure they have a properly fitted N95 and the best PPE, which was not the case before. So that’s where we’ll continue to support Canadians with the products coming out of Brockville.”