One year ago, following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted life as we knew it, The Canadian Shield was founded. Now, the Waterloo-based company is an award-winning, advanced manufacturer specializing in the design and production of personal protective equipment (PPE). Originating from education technology company InkSmith, The Canadian Shield has been Canada’s embodiment of ‘pivoting’ in their response to community need.
Driven by their guiding mission to keep all Canadians safe by ensuring access to high-quality PPE made on Canadian soil, The Canadian Shield has scaled in a short 12 months to become one of Canada’s largest onshore PPE manufacturers.
How We Got Here - Recapping the Last 365:
The Original Call for Help: March 20, 2020
After making headlines around the world for weeks, COVID-19 finally reached Waterloo Region as the first case was reported. Following a series of pandemic-related cancellations and with cases on the rise, the Ontario government officially declared a State of Emergency on March 17. It was in early March 2020 that it became clear there would be a domestic shortage of PPE supplies for frontline workers at healthcare facilities and beyond. On March 20, InkSmith Founder and CEO Jeremy Hedges was approached by Dr. Neil Naik, President of the Kitchener-Waterloo Academy of Medicine, about InkSmith’s capacity to 3D print PPE parts for local hospitals. Neil let the team know that Waterloo Region was short more than 10,000 face shields among other pieces of critical PPE.
Taking Action: March 20 — 24, 2020
The InkSmith team didn’t hesitate to jump in and help. That same night, the team began retooling their existing infrastructure for the manufacturing of PPE face shields by repurposing their stock of 3D printers and laser cutters. This led to a community-wide call for help to 3D print parts for face shields. This project, later known as “The Community Shield,” turned out to be one of, if not the largest crowdsourced effort for PPE production in the country. Collaborating with Dr. Neil Naik and Cambridge Memorial Hospital, InkSmith worked to iterate and design a face shield that could be produced and manufactured at scale. Just four days after the original pivot, with the help of the team at Communitech, InkSmith received their Medical Device Establishment License to begin producing their new reusable face shield version en masse. This new version of the shield was a fully sanitizable and reusable plastic face shield which was designed to address the dire need for PPE in Canada’s healthcare system.
Introducing The Canadian Shield: March 27th, 2020
Working around the clock to scale production, the team used clicker-presses to fulfill their first major order of 300,000 face shields, newly titled “The Canadian Shield,” for Ontario Health. With an increased demand in orders, the company announced they would be hiring — which resulted in 5,000+ resume applications to help with efforts to scale PPE production. A growing team meant adapting and implementing COVID safety measures immediately in order to keep people safe. A meal service was also introduced to ensure all staff members had access to healthy meals while on the job. Operating out of a small facility in downtown Kitchener, The Canadian Shield operation quickly outgrew the confines of the previous InkSmith headquarters — warranting the need for a larger production facility.
Expansion — Opening of 50,000 square foot facility in Waterloo: April 3rd, 2020
With increasing demand and the drive to meet the needs of frontline workers across the country, The Canadian Shield team relocated to a 50,000 square foot warehouse facility in North Waterloo. The expansion would allow them to significantly expand their operation and production capacity and integrate two travelling die head presses in their new facility. These machines, weighing upwards of two tons, were the last two machines of their kind on the North American market when The Canadian Shield team acquired them.
Federal Contract for 10 Million Face Shields: April 20th, 2020
Just one month after the InkSmith team endeavoured on the journey that led to the creation of The Canadian Shield, they were awarded a federal contract from the Government of Canada for 10 million face shields. The team at The Canadian Shield quickly got to work, scaling from 150 to over 330 workers at peak production to maximize capacity. In addition to the federal contract, The Canadian Shield also worked to fulfill thousands of face shield orders from hospitals, long-term care facilities, and healthcare providers across the country who were in urgent need of PPE. Over the next few months The Canadian Shield team worked around the clock to fulfill their federal contract, which was completed ahead of schedule in late June 2020.
Consumer Sales Launch Online: May 22nd, 2020
With the federal procurement order on track and increased production capabilities, The Canadian Shield team permitted the launch of consumer sales on their website in order to provide access to critical PPE for anyone that needed it. Launching first with the original Face Shield, online sales soon expanded to include Kids Face shields, Procedural Face Masks, and Reusable Cloth Masks.
Launch of Surgical Mask Production Line: July 17, 2020
As the need for PPE in Canada remained at an urgent level, The Canadian Shield invested in the equipment to install a number of surgical mask production lines at their facility in Waterloo. Production quickly scaled as The Canadian Shield received their testing certifications to produce ASTM medical-grade face masks. During this period, The Canadian Shield team also received a visit from Ontario Premier Doug Ford to commemorate the significant effort put forth by Canadian companies and to kick-off the Ontario Made program, recognizing verified manufacturers in Ontario.
Scaling and Re-Investing: August 2020 — March 2021
As the pandemic in Canada continued to prevail, The Canadian Shield scaled their manufacturing capabilities and production volumes even further to meet the demand for PPE in Canada. The Canadian Shield invested in expanding their surgical mask manufacturing capacity, developing their own advanced automation and vision systems, to build a sustainable PPE manufacturing organization in Canada. In addition to scaling production capacity, The Canadian Shield also implemented a number of quality initiatives including in-house quality lab for ASTM testing, Six Sigma Green Belt training, as well as the pursuit of ISO 13485 certification. By September, The Canadian Shield team had manufactured more than 16 million face shields and donated more than a million to frontline healthcare workers across the country.
The Unveiling of Industry-Leading Surgical Mask Automation: March 16th, 2021
The events of 2020 revealed the harsh reality surrounding the negative implications of the dependency on global supply chains for critical pandemic supplies. As a result, The Canadian Shield has invested in their domestic PPE manufacturing capacity to ensure supply and production capabilities in the event of future crises. The 100% Canadian Medical Mask Automation and Vision Systems, created by The Canadian Shield, is cutting edge technology enabling domestic manufacturers to compete penny for penny with overseas manufacturers. Selling their turnkey medical mask manufacturing lines and vision systems to other producers around the world will improve operations for global manufacturers while stabilizing the Canadian manufacturing industry.
Where We’re Going
The Next Generation of Canadian IP & Growth in Medical Device Manufacturing: 2021 & Beyond
Looking ahead to the future, The Canadian Shield will continue to build on the momentum of the last year, positioning themselves on the cutting edge of the medical device manufacturing industry and working towards sustainable Made-in-Canada solutions. With automation and innovation at the forefront, The Canadian Shield looks forward to continuing expansion of their medical device portfolio and providing competitive critical PPE and medical device products to sustain Canada’s manufacturing industry. In doing so, the company will positively impact economic development across the country and ensure that Canadian frontline workers have access to the resources needed to stay safe well into the future.
While reflecting on this past year and its challenges, The Canadian Shield’s success can be directly attributed to the support received from so many along the way. On behalf of our entire team at The Canadian Shield, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Canadians far and wide — who believed in this vision from the start and have helped us help so many others and achieve what we have today. The continuous support from our community embodies our spirit as Canadians and is a driving force behind our mission to propel a Made-in-Canada revolution — with the ultimate goal to not only protect Canada, but grow to become a world leader in medical equipment design and manufacturing.