The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt throughout the manufacturing sector over the last eight months. This time has required companies to innovate and shift priorities to remain competitive.
Bob Barrett, founder of The Barrett Family Foundation and President and CEO of Polytainers, says his business is withstanding the challenges from the pandemic. He believes his employees had a lot to do with that. “There’s a high degree of trust between our team members and our leadership team. They were behind us right from the start,” said Barrett.
Polytainers manufactures plastic packaging for food products such as margarine and yogurt. Recently, Polytainers faced an additional challenge. “In August, Hurricane Laura went through Louisiana, where most of the plastic resin from North America comes from. The plant we get our resin from will not have electricity for three to four months, which will result in a resin shortage,” said Barrett.
Barrett notes the impact of COVID-19 can be devastating for capital goods manufacturers. Many large companies, when facing uncertainty, may postpone or cancel new machine or technology orders. Polytainers took a different approach that was more entrepreneurial in nature. To support their suppliers, they developed a COVID-19 Incentive Program, which resulted in capital expenditures that doubled their average annual investment. “We invested with a few key suppliers who we wanted to make sure would get through the pandemic in one piece,” said Barrett.
Barrett believes that “there’s no end to what you can do to help people,” which is demonstrated through his work with the Barrett Family Foundation and the Barrett CTI. During COVID-19, the Barrett CTI has been a hub for helping companies and organizations deliver aid to those who desperately need it.
The Barrett CTI has been part of two notable initiatives during the pandemic. One is taking on food insecurity and the other is addressing the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) during COVID-19. GlobalMedic is a global emergency aid agency founded by Humber College alumnus Rahul Singh. Singh and his team acted as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the GTA and started an initiative that packages bulk dry goods into family-sized portions that are distributed to food banks and shelters.
Humber College’s Carrier Drive location was the operation’s headquarters until a small group of Humber trades students returned to in-person classes in July. “Thankfully, Humber gave us space at the Barrett CTI. We had volunteers packing one-pound bags of grains, lentils and beans. We managed to produce more than 500,000 pounds of emergency food that we distributed to families in need through the food bank system,” said Singh. GlobalMedic used most of the first floor of the Barrett CTI including the Main Atrium, the Demonstration Room and the Don Posterski Lab, which served as a loading dock.
The Barrett CTI also collaborated with Advanced Manufacturing Skills Consortium partner Javelin Technologies to increase worker safety during the pandemic. Javelin recently developed, manufactured, and rapidly deployed PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic to frontline workers across Canada.
Now, Javelin is using that experience and expertise to support Barrett CTI staff members. With Javelin’s support, Humber Technologist Anthony Nyman and Research Assistants Anxhelo Mecollari and David Vanamelsvoort have produced dozens of face shields for Humber faculty and staff using the Barrett CTI’s Trotec laser cutter and the Javelin-supplied Fortus 450 mc 3D printer – the largest one in the building.
Javelin has been instrumental in providing guidance for using the machine as effectively as possible. Vlad Porcila, a Technologist from Humber College’s Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, assisted the Barrett CTI trio with cutting the shields that wrap around the masks.
Other Advanced Manufacturing Skills Consortium partners have also been making significant contributions during COVID-19. This includes KUKA Robotics Canada, whose products are included in new robot-assisted therapy. The robot mobilizes patients regardless of whether a therapist is allowed contact with them, which is especially important in a time of physical distancing. KUKA robots have also automated the process of testing and sorting blood samples. This reduces errors and allows healthcare workers to focus on more demanding tasks.
Another partner, Cisco Canada, has donated hundreds of permanent mobile access point hardware and has contributed fees for some internet circuits to provide technology access for vulnerable Torontonians during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more about the Barrett CTI in its October 2020 newsletter, please click here.