Small Business makes a Big Difference

Newmarket manufacturer steps up to create COVID Shield for frontline health-care workers
Design Plastics International could make as many as 50,000 Health Canada approved medical face shields daily, owner Jeff Mayhew says.

When the call went out for help, a Newmarket small business owner was in a prime position to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Twenty years of expertise in plastic fabrication, laser cutting, and injection molding came together with the creative ability to generate quick solutions to urgent problems, and within a day of the Ontario government putting out a call for businesses to retool, the COVID Shield was born.

“Normally, in a design setting, it can be months of tedium where you don’t really get to see the fruit of your labour, but here, it’s a much faster process,” said Jeff Mayhew, owner and general manager of the company that makes the COVID Shield, Design Plastics International (DPI) of Newmarket.

“Once we heard about the shortage, we sprang into action and used our machinery and our capabilities to be able to help in any way that we could. The best way we could do that is with these face shields,” Mayhew explained.

The COVID Shield features a contoured design with a sealed forehead area and a fully adjustable head strap to ensure a proper fit for any user. It provides excellent visibility, it's lightweight, sturdy, reusable and recyclable.  

“We had all the necessary skills, materials and machinery, so that part was fairly straightforward,” said Mayhew.

There was a bit of a learning curve in regard to getting a Health Canada approval, but DPI now holds an active Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL) issued by Health Canada to produce Class 1 Medical Devices.

DPI is capable of producing 5,000 to 10,000 face masks every day to meet the demand and could scale production to as much as 50,000 units per day if there were sufficiently large orders placed at the regional or provincial level that would justify the expense of bringing in additional machinery.

With the safety regulations and cross-contamination protocols that hospitals are required to follow, Mayhew explains that some hospitals are going through as many as 35,000 face shields every week. 

Although the COVID masks are reusable, to a point, and eventually recyclable, Health Canada has a stringent list of requirements for medical equipment.

The MDEL issued to Design Plastics International means that every face mask made and shipped to a hospital in Canada is allowed to be used by the frontline workers who need them most.

“There are tons of homemade PPE that are made by people with good intentions who are trying to help, but maybe five per cent of that is acceptable in a health-care setting because they’re very strict on what equipment they allow,” explained Mayhew.

With demand continually increasing for effective PPE for frontline medical workers, Mayhew has had to make some hard decisions about who would ultimately get the masks his company is making.

“We have some serious interest from the States, but I don’t want to make promises that I can’t keep, in terms of continuous supply, so as much as I’d like to help everybody, I’m restricting it to Canada for now,” explained Mayhew.

This distribution plan keeps DPI aligned with the COVID Shield vision: “Made in Ontario. For Canada.” to “Protect what matters. PPE for frontline heroes.”

“We do what we can and we’re trying to help,” beamed Mayhew. 

“A lot of the frontline people are really appreciative. They’re so happy that they’ve got something. Fifty or 100, anything. The feedback has been that they’re really appreciative that we took the time to stop what we’re doing and try to help them.”

“At the end of the day, it feels good and everyone is happy about doing meaningful work,” he continued.

Once the immediate health-care crisis seems is abated and there is a good supply of this PPE, Mayhew and DPI intend to start servicing primary care physicians, paramedics and other first responders, as well as all the allied health affiliates that will need proper PPE.

 By: Dave Kramer - Newmarket Today

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