Skip to content

Stories chevron_right Data & Technology

Print this storyPrinter icon


Disruption is opportunity

April 30, 2020

Innovative ideas & Unexpected solutions from across Canada during COVID-19

When some doors close, others open.

Many businesses and organizations across Canada and around the world shuttered their workplaces in a collective effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Here are a handful of innovators that are bringing unexpected solutions to life.

Public institutions, like the City of Toronto Public Library is one such example. About one third of Toronto’s food banks were forced to close because they lacked the people and space to safely provide their services at a time when there was an increased demand for food across the city. This is where the Toronto Public Library stepped in to help – making use of their branches and workforce to help collect and distribute food for Toronto’s at-risk residents.

With 100 branches in neighbourhoods across the city and hundreds of staff members that are accustomed to handling materials all the time – this adjustment of operations was swift. The Toronto Public Library quickly transformed its largest book distribution centre into a food warehouse. There, the food arrives from suppliers, is unpacked, turned into hampers, then shipped out to the branches. Currently, the City of Toronto Public Library can pack between 500 and 600 hampers a day.

About 100km west, InkSmith, a Kitchener-based 3D printing company that normally specializes in education technology tools such as 3D printers, robotics and coding tools, virtual reality kits, and laser cutters, realized they were in a unique situation to use their existing tools and infrastructure to help produce face shields and quickly shifted gears.

Within less than 24 hours there were hundreds of face masks printed, with dozens of prototypes ready to be tested by front-line workers at the Kitchener-Waterloo Academy of Medicine and the Cambridge Memorial Hospital. Now, InkSmith has developed ‘The Canadian Shield’ - a laser-cut face shield that is produced in a matter of minutes, approved by Health Canada, designed to be sanitized and re-used, and is now being mass-produced for front-line workers across Canada.

On Canada’s west coast, Novo Textiles, a Coquitlam-based producer of dog beds and pillows, is set to become the first manufacturer of N95 respirator masks in Canada. In mid-March, the company was faced with a reduction in demand for product and an idling, 20,000 sq-ft factory. It pivoted quickly, making quick use of an already established network overseas and, within days, was able to source two fully automated mask production machines. Now, the company’s seamstresses are retraining to ensure quality control, run the machines and package the protection equipment. Once operations are fully up and running, it is estimated that the company will be able to produce 100,000 masks every day for front-line health workers.

In Ottawa, Spartan Technology, a biotechnology company and world leader in portable on-demand DNA testing, has received Health Canada approval for its rapid, accurate and portable COVID-19 test.

The Spartan Cube, the world’s smallest DNA analyzer, has been used for precision medicine, environmental water safety tests, for veterinary diagnostics, and for detection of infectious diseases.  Not only small in size, this DNA analyzer can provide results in less than an hour, and can be operated by non-laboratory personnel in settings such as airports, border crossing, clinics, doctors’ offices, pharmacies.

Now, Spartan Technology is working closely with the Government of Canada to expedite the review and approval of this portable molecular analyzer. From there, Spartan Technology plans to make the Cube widely available across the country, meeting the currently unmet need for rapid COVID-19 testing. In the face of this crisis, the intuitiveness of the Spartan Cube is a critical component to ensure widespread testing, especially in small, rural and remote communities where healthcare isn’t as easily accessible.

In Montreal, the Canadian Red Cross and the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal teamed up to transform the Jacques Lemaire Hockey Arena into a mobile hospital. This facility can hold up to 40 patients at a time and is intended to accommodate residents from both public and private long-term care homes that require hospitalization due to COVID-19. This collaborative effort of the Canadian Red Cross, the CIUSSS de l'Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal and the LaSalle neighbourhood, will provide relief to the nearby 22 bed unit at LaSalle hospital, which is already half full.

Across the country, breweries and distilleries from the Yukon Brewing in Whitehorse, YK, to The Troubled Monk in Red Deer, AB, to Pur Vodka in Montreal, QC quickly retooled their machinery to make hand sanitizer. Meanwhile clothing manufacturers from Canada Goose in Winnipeg, MB, to Len’s Mills Store in Cambridge, ON, to Stanfield’s in Truro, NS, are doing the same to supply scrubs and hospital gowns to healthcare workers.

From coast to coast to coast, innovative ideas are bringing unexpected solutions to life. As these new ideas continue to be launched as businesses and municipalities readjust to the new ‘normal’ – we will be posting them here.

This story was written by Evergreen.


You must be logged in to comment. Log in