A Waterloo company has begun selling the automated medical-mask manufacturing systems it developed over the past year to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) for the fight against COVID-19.

The Canadian Shield announced Tuesday that it will begin taking orders for its proprietary Medical Mask Automation and Vision Systems. 

“What started as a response to a critical shortage of PPE for our frontline health care workers has transformed into a high-tech enterprise, creating Canadian intellectual property and world-leading solutions for globally competitive manufacturing of medical devices,” said Jeremy Hedges, CEO and founder of The Canadian Shield, an advanced manufacturer specializing in the design and production of PPE.

In a news release, the company said that its location in the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem enabled it to access a wealth of talent to develop leading-edge production systems that it can now sell around the world.

“Access to a strong talent pool of engineers, designers, and technicians has enabled The Canadian Shield to quickly scale their team and build strategic partnerships with several local automation companies. These partnerships have helped to quickly design new technologies and optimize automation solutions for global sale.”

Selling turnkey manufacturing systems is Hedges’ latest effort to strengthen Canada’s domestic PPE industry and build a company that can compete internationally.

Much of the world’s supply ofl PPE products – things like masks, N95 respirators, nitrile gloves and protective gowns – have traditionally been produced in low-wage markets such as China and Malaysia. This left many countries reliant on foreign supply chains when the pandemic struck last March.

Hedges, who also owns an edtech business called InkSmith, used that company’s 3-D printers and laser-cutting equipment early last year to make protective face shields, first as a donation to health-care providers and then as a revenue-generating enterprise. 

He soon launched a second company, The Canadian Shield, to make PPE. He expanded his workforce from 10 to 330 at peak production, moved to a 50,000-square-foot facility, and invested millions in automation and production equipment.

The experience was a crash course in the global economics of PPE and the need for Canada to establish its own sustainable PPE industry. Hedges has spent the last year refining his proprietary manufacturing processes and working with government to develop Canadian PPE standards, enhance IP strategies and address a variety of other hurdles, such as providing hospitals with a domestic alternative to their import-heavy supply contracts.

In its news release, The Canadian Shield said its new automated mask-making systems are faster, have smaller scrap rates, less down time and are made to Canadian technical standards.

This cutting-edge technology enables The Canadian Shield to compete penny for penny with overseas manufacturers, and sell their turnkey medical-mask manufacturing lines and vision systems to other producers around the world to improve their operations.”