Lambton College Supporting Front-Line Healthcare Workers with PPE

Researchers at Lambton College’s Lambton Manufacturing Innovation Centre (LMIC) have answered the call for personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line healthcare workers at Bluewater Health in Sarnia and Petrolia during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After supply chains and equipment availability for PPE were disrupted during the early stages of the global health crisis, Bluewater Health looked to the advanced manufacturing experts at LMIC for rapid prototyping to fabricate specialized respiratory equipment. 

Due to dwindling supplies of N95 masks, front-line healthcare workers at Bluewater Health’s two hospital locations were using a supply of donated industrial-grade masks that require two filter cartridges, which were temporarily unavailable due to supply chain disruption. Consequently, the health workers needed to double the mask’s filter life by capping off one of the ports in order to use only one cartridge at a time. 

“The immediate goal was to reverse engineer the Honeywell masks and design and print the caps with custom gasket seals that could be dismantled, sterilized and reassembled by hospital staff,” explained Rick Williston, research manager, LMIC. 

Subsequent analysis highlighted used filter storage as another opportunity for extending filter usefulness, and filter caps were designed and donated to allow for safe storage and reuse of filters with a reduced risk of contamination.

Williston said his research team has completed and donated 150 filter caps with custom gasket seals, 390 mask caps designed to keep filters sterile during storage between usage and 150 ear-saver clips to reduce irritation from constant mask use. The caps are washable and are cleaned by a Sarnia-based company twice per week before reuse. 

“It is innovation like this that has kept our teams safe, comfortable and re-assured that they can continue to provide care safely and effectively.”

– Jack Vanderveen, manager,
Support Services at Bluewater Health

The specific respirators are Honeywell’s North 7700 half masks, which have two air purifying cartridges and filters. They are used at Bluewater Health by physicians and nurses across the hospital, said Jack Vanderveen, manager, Support Services at Bluewater Health.

“This donation has meant a certain level of peace of mind for staff, management and patients, as we have been able to give some reassurance of having the proper PPE in place while there are so many shortages,” said Vanderveen. “This has also extended the life of our respirator filters as we now only consume one filter at a time and although we are keeping the filters and reusing them, they are in high demand and very difficult to acquire.

“It is innovation like this that has kept our teams safe, comfortable and re-assured that they can continue to provide care safely and effectively.” 

The Bluewater Health research project was funded by the Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) through Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) contributions.

All seven of SONAMI’s academic partners are taking action to combat the health crisis, including Niagara, Conestoga, Fanshawe, Lambton, Mohawk and Sheridan colleges, and McMaster University.

Since 2016, FedDev Ontario has invested more than $20 million in support of SONAMI’s growth efforts in the manufacturing innovation ecosystem. Thanks to flexibilities introduced by FedDev Ontario in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SONAMI and its member institutions have been able to harness their expertise and pivot their operations to respond to the COVID-19 crisis by building a supply of essential equipment, products and conduct research into therapeutics for Canadians.

In addition to the collaborative project with Bluewater Health, Lambton College has developed 10 research projects that are focused on the fight against COVID-19.