Niagara College’s ‘heroic efforts’ to keep communities safe

Rafael Almeida is a research assistant with the Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre and a graduate of Niagara College’s Computer Programming program.

In the battle against the COVID-19 crisis, researchers at the Research & Innovation labs at Niagara College’s Walker Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (WAMIC) continue supplying thousands of face shields to essential workers by producing hundreds of the PPE each day. 

Since the start of the effort in March to help front-line healthcare workers, the research team at WAMIC has produced and donated a total of 17,300 face shields – certified by Health Canada with a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL Class 1) – to the local Niagara Health system.

Another 20,000 units are being produced for other essential workers and community members throughout the province. So far, 4,200 face shields have been distributed to seniors’ homes in Dunnville on behalf of the Dunnville Rotary Club, Toronto East Health Network, Thunder Bay Regional Health Science Centre, The Meadows of Dorchester and the Niagara Region. 

The project is funded by the NC-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) through Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributions.

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, FedDev Ontario has invested more than $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.

“The Research & Innovation division at Niagara College provided invaluable services at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when PPE inventories were running low, and the supply chains were disrupted,” said Amir Gill, director, Capital Planning, Engineering Services, and Biomedical Engineering, Niagara Health. “The Niagara College team stepped in and started to locally manufacture and supply us with face shields. They continued to send us a daily supply until the supply chains were re-established. 

“Niagara College manufactured 17,300 face shields over the course of a few months. I would term their efforts heroic, and they definitely helped Niagara Health keep our patients, staff and visitors safe.”

 

Brian Klassen is a research associate with the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre and a graduate of Niagara College’s Electronics Engineering Technology program.


The WAMIC research team used computer-aided design to create the face shield prototype and then 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 300 units per day.

Brian Klassen, R&I research associate and a graduate of NC’s Electronics Engineering Technology program, had been working on research projects for the Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre prior to the pandemic. Since April, he has been helping in the WAMIC labs to assemble the face shields three days a week.

“It’s nice to know I’m helping to make a difference in a time where Canadians really need help,” he said. “There have also been volunteers from the R&I admin team that have been coming in throughout the week to make shields. It is great to see people stepping up to help, even when they don’t usually work in the labs. We have a great group of people working here.” 

WAMIC research assistant Rafael Almeida has also switched gears from working on IT projects for local industry partners. The NC Computer Programming graduate now divides his time between working on research projects at home and assembling face shields at the R&I labs.

“The experience of working on the face shield assembly line is also valuable as we can watch the whole process closely, find better solutions and apply it to the daily production routine,” said Almeida. “I’m doing my best to be part of the solution here in the Niagara Region, and wishing the best for those who risk their lives to serve Canadians during these unprecedented times.”

“The Foundation has received so much support from generous and creative community members.  The team at Niagara College once again showed their community leadership and care for the residents of Niagara,” said Chris Green, director of Communications, Marketing & Community Engagement, Niagara Health Foundation. “Through the donation of thousands of pieces of personal protective equipment and the innovative way their talented staff were able to develop and create protective face shields showed us that the Niagara Region is well equipped with creative, caring, problem solvers.”

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