The following is an excerpt from a Waterloo EDC written on April 7, 2020
Necessity is the mother of invention.
We’ve heard that term a lot in the last few weeks as companies around the world shift their focus from standard product lines to something – anything – that will help during the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s hard to find a more dramatic example of this sort of pivot than InkSmith.
A little over two weeks ago, they were an edtech company working with teachers around the globe to keep students engaged. Today, they’re a personal protection equipment (PPE) company shipping tens of thousands of face shields across Canada. In the process, they developed a design, galvanized a community of makers to pitch in and announced the hiring of 100 new employees to help them meet demand.
How did it all come together? Here’s a 9-day breakdown of InkSmith’s ultimate pivot:
Day 1: How do we help?
On a Friday in late March, InkSmith started the day as an educational programming company. They had nine employees listed on their website and none of them worked in health, safety or manufacturing. They ended the day with a tweet saying that – in response to messages about 3D printed solutions for combating COVID-19 – they’d found something that’s scalable.
Day 2: A Prototype and a Call-to-Action
Within 24 hours – before 1 pm the next day! – InkSmith had posted the news that they’d built a prototype mask and tested it for ease-of-use, rigidity and durability. They also noted that they were seeking approval from Canadian doctors, released a video showing how they’re sewing head straps, took part in an interview with CTV, began experimenting with a laser-cut (rather than 3D print) design and put out a call-to-action for local makers: please help us print PPE parts! They posted the design file on their website for makers to use.
Day 3: The Community Steps Up
Did the community hear their call? The first messages of support – with videos showing home-based 3D printing in progress – appeared within a couple of hours. Within 24 hours, tons of messages started appearing from makers and community organizations that had leapt into action and were producing PPE parts as quickly as their 3D printers would go. The response was so substantial that InkSmith had to create a video FAQ for makers looking to help. They also announced that the laser cut version of their face shield was almost ready for full-scale production – it would reduce manufacturing time from hours to minutes for each shield – and Health Canada certification was pending.
Day 4: Health Canada Certification!
A day later, the company announced that they had received Health Canada approval for their design, which meant that with a few retrofits their space would be ready for mass production. They also noted that within the last 24 hours they’d received the parts necessary for hundreds of additional face shields from local makers.
Day 5: The Parts Start Pouring In
One workweek into their pivot, InkSmith announced that they had received enough parts from the community to make 1,000 PPE face shields. The big reveal of the day was that InkSmith had named their face shield design “The Canadian Shield,” which is a Canadian geology pun. A story from Global News made a first reference to the company thinking they’d need 100 more employees to scale the operation and the team also made time to speak with CBC KW and the Waterloo Region Record.
Day 6: The Tent
The next day, the company revealed that they were building a temporary structure outside of their office to act as a sanitation facility for completed PPE face shields. InkSmith also shared that one of the final barriers to mass production was simply getting their laser cutters up and running. Finally, the day also included a shout-out from Rod Phillips, Ontario’s Finance Minister, on the floor of the provincial legislature.
Day 7: Another Big Delivery
Another day, another huge delivery of community-made shields to the local distribution centre. The team also sent its first run of laser-cut shields to Joseph Brant Hospital in nearby Burlington, Ontario. The InkSmith team took us on a tour of the facility, where laser cutter after laser cutter was busy producing mass production PPE.
Let’s put this in perspective. One week ago, InkSmith was an edtech company. On this day, they delivered a shipment of Health Canada-approved PPE face shields to a hospital. Crazy.
Day 8: The Sanitation Station
A quiet day (at least publicly) that included a big “thank you” to everyone who had supported the company so far and a visit from the local fire department to power wash the temporary structure in preparation for turning it into an ad hoc sanitation facility.
Day 9: “WE’RE HIRING”
The last day we’re tracking in this post, just nine days after the company decided to start making PPE face shields, they officially announced that they’d be hiring 100+ people to help.
This week, InkSmith will begin to manufacture 10,000+ masks per day (!) to help supply front-line workers across Canada.