Kitchener-Waterloo

Health Canada certifies made-in-Kitchener face shields to protect against COVID-19

A Kitchener, Ont., tech company has been certified by Health Canada to mass produce face shields that will protect health care workers against COVID-19. 

inksmith says it can produce upwards of 8,000 shields a day

Jeremy Hedges, CEO of Inksmith, shows two prototypes of the face shield his company has had certified by Health Canada. They go into full scale production, of upwards of 5,000 a day, 'in the very near future.' (Inksmith/Twitter)

A Kitchener, Ont., tech company says it has been certified by Health Canada to mass produce face shields that will protect health care workers against COVID-19. 

Just a few weeks ago, Jeremy Hedges and his team at Inksmith were helping teachers introduce their kids to robotics, 3D printing and the principles of STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts and math). 

Now they're re-configuring their building and getting ready to start full-scale production on what's become one of the most high-demand items of the COVID-19 outbreak.

It all started when a local family doctor reached out to Inksmith, warning of the critical shortage of personal protective equipment.  

"She had read about some other folks in Italy that were 3D printing ventilator pieces and wondered if we might be able to help," said Hedges of the doctor, who knew his company had similar technology.

Friday morning, with the guidance of Neil Naik from the Kitchener-Waterloo Academy of Medicine, they got started.

"We just kind of dropped everything. Nothing was planned," recalled Hedges. They started with an open source file, improved on it and before long, the team ended up with a design for a face shield that could be fully laser cut in seconds. 

"It's reusable, it's adjustable. A lot of the solutions they're getting right now are one day use and then disposed. Our system can be washed and then sanitized, which will make it a lot less expensive for the health care system."

The face shields have three main components: a visor that is 3D printed and rests against the forehead, an elastic band that holds it in place, and a lasercut transparent shield that comes down over the face 'like a SWAT officer,' said Hedges. (Inksmith/Twitter)

In just five days they went from being able to produce five or six at a time on a 3D printer to 8,000 a day — with certification from Health Canada. 

"And that's nowhere what we need, either," said Hedges. "The scale of this is huge."

CBC News asked Health Canada to confirm that it has certified Inksmith to produce the face shields, but the government has not yet responded. 

Up to this point, the visors have been produced jointly through community efforts and with what Inksmith has been able to do in house. Many of the early visors, which hold the transparent screen in place away from the face, and strap were 3D printed and produced by community members, with Inksmith producing the face shield. 

As the face shields go into mass production, the process will go commercial, said Hedges, but the plans stay open source so anyone with access to the right equipment can make their own. 

Kitchener's Inksmith normally specializes in education technology. That means things like 3D printers, robotics and even offering tech support. But the company has now pivoted from helping classrooms...to creative face shields for health care workers. 5:06

With files from the CBC's Kate Bueckert

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