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Inuvik's micro-manufacturing centre creating items for essential workers during pandemic

Although the centre is now closed to the public, employees can still use the equipment. Their focus has shifted from making art to creating items that will be useful during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees at the Arts, Crafts & Technology Micro-manufacturing Centre have made ear protectors, door openers

Lars Ekelund, co-ordinator of the Arts, Crafts & Technology Micro-manufacturing Centre in Inuvik, N.W.T., demonstrates a door-handle opener. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The Arts, Crafts & Technology Micro-manufacturing Centre (ACTMC) in Inuvik is normally a place where people use technology to make art, but since COVID-19 hit, the focus has shifted.

Now, the equipment is being used to create items that will be useful during the pandemic.

"This is a door-handle opener, it clips on to one-inch door handles," said Lars Ekelund, co-ordinator of the ACTMC, while demonstrating how the opener works.

Ekelund said the ACTMC has produced two types of door-handle openers, showing that one would be used by clipping it to the door, and opening it with his elbow.

Though the centre is now closed to the public, employees can still use the equipment. Ekelund and other employees are designing and testing items, such as parts for a facemask and a device that can push and open items.

Ekelund shows the ear-relief tool that could be used by essential workers who wear cloth masks. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

A small plastic product the ACTMC produced is meant to help essential workers that wear cloth masks for a long period of time. It wraps around the back of the head, and attaches to the strings of the mask.

"It just relieves the pressure on the back of their ears, so it just causes less pain," said Ekelund. "They are actually under testing right now at the local hospital."

Testing designs for items to increase safety 

Ekelund said right now the Aurora Research Institute is testing out different designs to see what can be made in case there is a need later on.

"These are some of the items that can be used to increase people's safety, and used to decrease the transmission of the coronavirus at this time, and it's something that's not easily available right now," said Ekelund.

According to Matthew Dares, the manager of technology development at the Aurora Research Institute, the institute has told federal agencies and the territorial government about what they can produce.

Ekelund shows some of the items made at the Arts, Crafts & Technology Micro-manufacturing Centre in Inuvik. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"If these things are needed in an emergency, that we can produce locally, or at least regionally, we want to be ready to be able to do that," said Dares.

He said the institute is also using equipment from the robotics and engineering club to produce some of the items.

So far, equipment from the ACTMC and the club has been used to make 200 ear protectors and 10 door openers.

Dares said they will soon be sending some of the ear protectors to Yellowknife.

"There's been a real movement in the maker community online about how 3D printing, laser cutting … can support efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19," Dares said. "I think little things … that can just provide a measure of comfort for our front-line workers, it's just super important for us to get it out there."

He said they have ordered materials and designs to make about 500 face masks if there ends up being a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the territory.

Also, Eukland said because the ACTMC can produce these items, it could possibly become a business "for somebody locally, so they could produce these items and sell them here, and increase economic activity here in Inuvik."

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