Nova Scotia company making face shields opts for at-home assembly by workers

HALIFAX — A small Halifax-area company that has transitioned to making face shields during the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a novel approach that doesn't involve a production line.

Dartmouth, N.S.-based Spring Loaded Technology, which also manufactures knee braces, has devised a system that allows its workers to assemble its reusable shields in the safety of their own homes.

Company CEO Chris Cowper-Smith said the idea was created to maximize physical distancing, given that production staff working on the knee braces were the only ones allowed to be in the office. Other employees were asked to work from home.

"When we wanted to start adding shields, we didn't want to just add a bunch more people into our space after we asked others to work from home," said Cowper-Smith.

He said once the decision was made to manufacture the shields in May, the company doubled the size of its workforce, adding another 25 temporary and full-time workers.

Each person on the shield production team has been equipped with a work station they are using at home, and they are regularly brought the materials needed to assemble the shields by technicians who also pick up the finished products.

Cowper-Smith said each worker is given enough material to make anywhere from 100 to 130 shields a day. They've also been trained to keep their work areas clean to cut down on contaminants during the assembly process.

The shield design is a collaboration between Spring Loaded and another Dartmouth-based company, Ring Rescue.

Dalhousie University medical student Ella Vermeir is one of the production team members working from home.

Vermeir said she decided to spend her summer building shields after her clinical elective in family medicine was cancelled.

"It's been a really smooth process for someone like myself who hasn't done a lot of assembling or manual labour kind of tasks before," said Vermeir.

She said she can usually make about 100 shields over the course of her work day — a task that took her about seven hours to complete when she first started the job.

"Now it takes about five or six hours working at my top speed, because obviously I want to do a good job," she said. "There's a sense of responsibility knowing who is getting them. All of the assemblers feel like we really want to do a good job and give them something that's going to protect them."

The company has sold its face shields to a number of hospitals in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, as well as to food producers, the seafood industry and dentists, and it recently completed a contract to equip the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Cowper-Smith said Spring Loaded has made about 40,000 face shields so far and expects to make about 200,000 more in the coming months.

He said work on the shields would continue for at least the rest of this year, and his company would assess how the need for personal protective equipment develops over time.

"The model is rapidly scaleable," Cowper-Smith said. "If the demand for them dies down, we can reduce our output and if it increases we can quite quickly add people and start producing more shields."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2020.

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had an incorrect spelling of Ella Vermeir's surname.