B.C. companies step up to build medical equipment, ventilators for hospitals

Companies in B.C. have rapidly reorganized in the last two weeks to start manufacturing essential medical supplies for health care workers on the front lines in the response to COVID-19.

Hospitals and local health authorities say they've been overwhelmed by the number of calls and emails coming in from individuals and companies wanting to donate equipment.

Vancouver-based LNG Studios usually works with the real estate industry producing 3D architectural renderings, but CEO Leon Ng says they're now using their 3D printers to make medical face shields.

"We're using about five printers right now printing approximately 30 to 40 a day."

Ng says the company was able to shift to printing face shields thanks to an open source file that's been used in Europe to make them.

"Anyone that has a standard 3-D printer should be able to print it."

Ng says doctors and nurses at Vancouver General Hospital, St Paul's Hospital, Lions Gate Hospital and Richmond General Hospital have already approved the shields. He is hoping to also send prototypes to Surrey Memorial Hospital and Burnaby Hospital to get them approved for health professionals in those facilities.

"We're trying to get these out there to the front-line workers as soon as possible," he said. "The traditional supply chains are just strained. It takes weeks for the hospital to get these."

Ng says there's a need for 300 face shields a day in the region.

Province supports shift to manufacture medical supplies

Local health authorities like Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care say they've received so many offers that they're now directing them to the provincial government.

B.C.'s Health Ministry said in an email to CBC News that it supports the federal government's plan to provide support to "those who want to retool their manufacturing facilities to contribute to this fight." 

It says companies can access funds through the Strategic Innovation Fund to retool their machines to produce needed medical equipment and supplies.

Also in B.C., a company started just eight days ago by a group of medical professionals, mechanical engineers, software engineers and entrepreneurs, says it's produced a new ventilator prototype.

'New ventilator from scratch'

The company, called the Ocalink Emergency Ventilator Project, says the ventilator has been reviewed by independent doctors and the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and is waiting on federal approval from Health Canada.

"Within eight days we've created a new ventilator from scratch," said CEO Corbin Lowe. "Not only do we have the supply chain but the manufacturing capability to produce a million units within 90 days." 

Ben Nelms/CBC

He adds that the prototype is specifically designed to meet the needs of COVID-19 patients.

Lowe says they need at least $5 million in federal funding to start production in manufacturing facilities across the country as early as next Tuesday.

Both Lowe and Ng hope their companies' efforts will inspire others to do what they can to support the health care community.