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Local face shield production expanded

Face shield. Submitted photo

Austin Innovation is scaling the production of medical face shields from their lab in Trail, BC as a stopgap measure to meet the demand for COVID-19-specific personal protective equipment (PPE).

The new entity, located in the lower level of Austin Engineering, is part of the collaborative team manufacturing PPE for the medical community and other essential service providers responding to COVID-19. Their efforts to equip doctors and nurses with face shields have now expanded to fit other first responders and critical essential service workers in the Kootenay Boundary region.

“We were brought onto an existing team, led by Dr. Michael Vance, who was tasked with sourcing PPE for medical personnel at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital and Kootenay Lake Hospital in response to the growing shortage,” explains Mary Austin, CEO of Austin Innovation. “We were contacted due to our expertise in laser cutting and other innovative techniques.”

At the end of March, Austin Innovation quickly assembled and deployed a core production team.

“These face shields are an important aspect of the recommended PPE list for those caring for COVID-19 patients,” explains Dr. Vance. “Some clinics and staff had zero shields, so producing these has definitely helped alleviate some healthcare staff anxiety.”

The community quickly rallied to donate supplies. The immediate response to the project was crucial in ensuring the shields could be produced and delivered in a timely manner. The team has scaled production to several hundred shields a day, manufactured under social distancing protocols at the Austin Innovation lab and a Selkirk College affiliated lab run by Applied Research and Innovation Instructor and Researcher Jason Taylor.

“I was blown away by the response from the area’s innovators,” adds Vance. “They took the reins on this project and surpassed any expectations I had for timeline and production numbers. They were also vital in refining the product to make the shields as useful as possible.”

After hearing from medical professionals, Austin Innovation adapted the shield design and, together with Taylor, began rapid production. New iterations of the design were made based on fit, functionality, and comfort tailored to the end user. Since then, Austin Innovation’s efforts have seen approximately 1,300 shields manufactured and delivered to Kootenay Boundary doctors, nurses and other supporting health care workers, RCMP officers, firefighters, search and rescue, postal workers and food bank employees.

The team has shared its design and production techniques with the Provincial Health Services Authority, and its partners at UBC Vancouver, who are coordinating epidemiology with national and international teams.

“The way that our team has created a design template and manufacturing style here in the Kootenays is being shared across the province and with international contacts,” explains Austin. “I think we’ve realized that what was created when the former MIDAS (now transitioned into Selkirk Technology Access Centre) came together - the capacity building, the connections, and the trust - has all come to fruition. We were able to immediately collaborate effectively.”

Matt Pommer, a member of the Austin Innovation production line team, expands on the process. “We use the laser cutter to cut 1/4 inch MDF wood sheets, we cut out the frames for the head shields, and we paint them so they can be wiped clean,” he explains. “The Selkirk lab makes the clear shields and drops them off. And then we attach elastic to the head band. As of last week we’re flat packing, so we leave the frame with the elastic on it separate from the shields and let the end user put them together."

“It’s rewarding,” says Pommer. “When you see pictures of people using them it feels great.”