Kitchener manufacturer expanding fast to meet face shield demand
The Canadian Shield, a spinoff of InkSmith, is opening a second automated plant, hiring up to 300 workers
KITCHENER, Ont. — A small Ontario company that has been making educational materials for teachers has jumped into the COVID-19 battle in a big way.
InkSmith, a manufacturer of educational tools such as the k8 robotics kit used for teaching coding and computational thinking, has been making face shields using 3D printing and laser cutting technology at a 10,000 square-foot facility in Kitchener.
The demands of the COVID-19 crisis prompted it to spin off a second company. Called The Canadian Shield, it will expand efforts to meet the needs of Ontario hospitals by dramatically exceeding its current daily capacity of 50,000 shields.
Growing demand means more hiring and a second, 50,000 square-foot plant in Kitchener.
“Over the past few weeks, we have been extremely concerned about the critical shortage of medical equipment that our frontline healthcare workers are facing during this unprecedented global pandemic,” said Jeremy Hedges, founder and CEO of InkSmith and Canadian Shield. “Using InkSmith’s existing tools and infrastructure, we realized we were in a position to help.”
The first version of the face protector was called “Community Shield”, designed by Czech Republic firm Prusa3D. It consisted of a 3D-printed headband and reinforcement piece, clear protective face shield and an adjustable head strap.
But 3D printing would not handle the expected volume so the company switched to its own patent-pending design – Canadian Shield – laser-cut shields that eliminated the 3D-printed parts. The new shields can be washed, sanitized and reused.
Canadian Shield hired 80 workers recently laid off because of the financial impacts of COVID-19 to produce the shields. The company will add 250 to 300 workers over the next few weeks who will drive production at the new plant over three shifts per day.
The plant will eliminate laser cutting with several automation lines. They’ll feed plastic into machines that cut out thousands of shields hourly per unit. Dozens of manual punch-press machines will also be producing parts.
The shields, approved by Health Canada in March, are currently being distributed to hospitals across Ontario, including Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Cambridge Memorial Hospital and Queensway Carleton Hospital in Ottawa.
Canadian Shield is working to supply Ontario’s needs, then expand distribution across Canada. Beyond that, it’s looking at the potential for global distribution.
“This is more than just a short-lived enterprise to combat the spread of COVID-19. We are making a long-term commitment to bringing Canadian manufacturing back to the Kitchener-Waterloo region and our hope is that we can help as many people as we can along the way,” said Hedges.