ITA-funded equipment helping to support front line workers through COVID-19

Volunteers across the Gulf Islands have been creating face shields for front line workers.

Across the world, health care workers face a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) needed when treating patients who have been infected with COVID-19. And some high schools in B.C. are stepping up to help, thanks in part through trades training equipment funded by Industry Training Authority (ITA).

James Tyrwhitt-Drake, a science visualization specialist based out of Oak Bay, got the idea to use his 3D printing experience to make PPE from a 3D printer manufacturing company that released an open-source printable face shield design on their website in response to COVID-19.  He reached out to a friend, Bryn Finer, a local prop maker and shop owner, and the two began discussing ways to build face shields. Soon, they had connected with others across the Gulf Islands, including Rachel FitZaland, 3D Design and Robotics teacher at Gulf Island Secondary School, and within days formed a network of 25 remote volunteers willing to help build parts using their personal 3D printers. 

The group came together over several days through online meetings to plan, troubleshoot, and begin printing the parts.

“I was able to use my background to make recommendations on what designs to use, what materials we should print these in, and organizational factors to turn this into an assembly line,” says James.

Rachel, with permission from the school district, used eight of her school’s 3D printers and one laser cutter to build parts. The equipment, which is used for the school’s youth trades training programs, was purchased through funding from ITA.

“Those were the initial printers that we used,” says Rachel. “We can’t express how grateful we are to the ITA for funding schools for equipment that we can use to help the community.”

Jason Leber, Manager of Youth Programs at ITA, says he’s pleased that the school was able to re-purpose the printers and cutters to help support those on the front lines. Schools having access to new equipment is opening up new opportunities for students and teachers to expand into areas of production, manufacturing, and prototyping that has been very challenging to do before.

“What is occurring in SD64 is inspiring, how the school and community have pulled resources together in a time of need is an amazing example of how technology is enabling a local solution,” says Jason.

Making safety a top priority, the team created a secure drop off system to ensure that materials were sterilized and exchanged without the possibility of viral transmission. At the drop off location, items are assembled and packaged for distribution.

“We’re taking sanitary precautions when collecting parts. We’re always wearing gloves, and disinfecting parts before putting them into sealed bags,” says Thomas Boland, a former student at Gulf Islands Secondary School who helped with tracking production and providing technical support to volunteers.

The group completed their initial run of 400 face shields which were delivered to front line workers across the Gulf Islands and will continue production.

“I’m especially proud of how people have been eager and willing to donate their time and expertise to this project. Many of us are working 12-hour days and it’s not something anybody is complaining about. It’s genuine and there’s a real community feeling,” says Rachel.


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