Nova Scotia

No office? No problem. Employees of 2 Dartmouth companies making face shields at home

Two Dartmouth, N.S., companies expect to hire dozens more employees this summer after creating a Nova Scotia-made face shield that their employees assemble at home.

Spring Loaded and Ring Rescue set up assembly stations in employees homes

Some employees assemble face shields at the Spring Loaded office in Dartmouth, N.S., but the vast majority are working from home to allow for physical distancing. (Submitted by Chris Cowper-Smith)

Ella Vermeir thought she would be spending her summer working in a clinic as part of an elective for medical school. Instead, she's at home, spending hours a day assembling Nova Scotia-made face shields.

"It's an awesome opportunity," Vermeir said. "I know for myself and some of my other classmates in the medical school, it's been a great way to feel like we're giving back to health-care providers and other essential front-line workers."

Vermeir is one of 10 Dalhousie medical students who are working for Spring Loaded and Ring Rescue to build personal protective equipment this summer.

The two local companies joined forces during the pandemic, and developed a locally made reusable face shield. They launched the Scotia Shield in May and demand was instant. Orders have come in from the VON, hospitals and dentists across Atlantic Canada.

Chris Cowper-Smith, one of the founders of the knee-brace company Spring Loaded, said the two companies had shared many employees and engineers over the years, and they figured that by combining their expertise, they could come up with a good product.

Employees assemble the shields at home, and then take them to the office for a quality control check before they're shipped out. (Submitted by Chris Cowper-Smith)

They're not the only companies in Nova Scotia to pivot during the pandemic. MacKenzie Atlantic, a Musquodoboit Harbour machine shop, is also making face shields. Stanfield's is making medical gowns in Truro, while Michelin is making hospital scrubs. 

"It was exciting," said Cowper–Smith of the challenge.

One of their immediate hurdles was physical space. They debated renting a warehouse, but they didn't know what to expect or how many employees they would need.

Instead, they decided to have most of their employees assemble the product at home.

"That's physical distancing at its best. Everyone is able to work from the safety of their own home without the risk of too many people being close while working," said Cowper–Smith.

"We can have as many people as we need to working from their houses."

The Spring Loaded and Ring Rescue team deliver an order of face shields to Dartmouth General Hospital. (Submitted by Chris Cowper-Smith)

When word got around that they needed help, Vermeir said a number of her medical school classmates were eager to take on the challenge.

"It's been a nice community experience," she said. "We all had things planned for the summer, we had clinical electives, research, a lot of those things can still go on but have been adapted to be things we do from home."

Vermeir said she can make about 100 shields in five hours.

"I just use my desk that I use for school and studying," she said. "I get set up with my gloves and mask on."

Staff can assemble several thousand Scotia Shields a day, but Cowper-Smith expects them to increase that significantly over the next few months. (Submitted by Chris Cowper-Smith)

She then takes the masks to the office for a quality control check before they're shipped off.

"These are medical devices, we take that seriously," said Cowper–Smith.

He estimates there are about 25 employees assembling in total, but expects to hire as many as four times more as orders continue to come in.

Balancing face shields, knee braces

While demand has been high, Spring Loaded's knee-brace business has also been busy.

"One of the biggest challenges was launching this whole new product while still maintaining operations of our existing business," said Cowper–Smith.

He said they were able to fit people for braces virtually, so staff have moved back and forth between the two sides of the business over the last three months.

Like many businesses shifting gears right now, he said they have no idea how long they'll be in the face shield business.

"We do see a sustained likely demand for face shields for at least the rest of the year," said Cowper–Smith.

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About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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