UW alumni make PPE for frontline workers at Waterloo company

Graphic by Candice Cheng

The Canadian Shield is one of several companies that have made significant contributions to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

Founded by Jeremy Hedges in March 2020, The Canadian Shield is the largest producer of face shields in Canada by far. 

The Waterloo-based company has manufactured approximately 7.5 million face shields since its inception — with a current production rate of 1.5 million shields per week — and plans to produce 12 million shields by mid-summer.

The Canadian Shield currently employs three UW alumni, Richard Wright-Gedcke, Amy Brunetta and Thomas Black.

Hedges’ background as founder and CEO at InkSmith — an education technology startup, well-versed in both 3D printing and laser technology — was crucial to the success of The Canadian Shield, originally a subsidiary of InkSmith.

“InkSmith often used a process/theory called Design Thinking in order to create effective solutions to complex problems,” Hedges said. “When the PPE [personal protective equipment] shortage in Waterloo Region became apparent, InkSmith was quick to implement the Design Thinking process in order to come up with a solution to the problem at hand.”

“Our ability as a small team to adapt and innovate played a huge role in us pivoting as fast as we did,” Hedges added. “Our experience with rapid prototyping tools, such as 3D printing and laser cutting, was the reason we were able to crank out early prototypes right away — rather than going through a lengthy design/engineering process that would’ve been required by larger corporate companies.”

However, InkSmith faced several challenges in designing and producing their first face shields. Their biggest issue was that, at the height of the pandemic, the face shields had to be produced in a short period of time. 

“As the need for PPE in Kitchener-Waterloo and the rest of the country grew, we were racing to design, manufacture and mass-produce a reusable face shield that could be distributed to healthcare workers on the frontlines,” Hedges said.

In addition, InkSmith had to adapt their entire company to produce a massive supply of face shields outside of their regular operations. 

“We had to become adept in a whole new field while also scaling our team and production operation, in order to meet the increasing demand,” Hedges added.

Luckily, InkSmith had the support of the local Kitchener-Waterloo community.

InkSmith’s initial design for their face shields, known as “The Community Shield”, incorporated 3D printed materials. However, the company quickly realized that the 3D printing process took too long to manufacture enough shields. Therefore, they reached out to the public to assist in their production and received hundreds of 3D printed parts within 48 hours to temporarily fulfill their clients’ demands.

“The Kitchener-Waterloo and greater Ontario 3D Printing community played a crucial role in our ability to get PPE face shields distributed to frontline workers in record time,” Hedges said. “This also enabled our team to develop another stream of reusable face shields which could be mass-produced — this later became The Canadian Shield.”

In contrast to The Community Shield, The Canadian Shield used laser cutting technology to manufacture the new face shields. This new production process took much less time than 3D printing, allowing the team to produce enough shields in the long run.

Currently, the company is working on domesticating the PPE production industry to avoid foreign influence on Canadian PPE demands, as well as expanding their operations beyond the country.

“The Canadian Shield is actively working to equip frontline and essential workers all over North America and the rest of the world,” Hedges said. “As the pandemic has had different impacts in different areas, the need in some areas is greater than others.”

“The Canadian Shield aims to create an industry that is no longer reliant on global supply chains in order to keep our people safe,” Hedges added.

The Canadian Shield landed a contract with the federal government in April to manufacture 10 million face shields for the country. 

According to Hedges, The Canadian Shield — as well as the rest of Canada — is now well-equipped to face another potential pandemic wave.


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