Bella Coola’s Makerspace has produced PPE with the help of its 3-D printers for local use if needed (James Hindley photo)

Bella Coola Makerspace creates PPE for local frontline workers

The efforts of the local organization were recently recognized in the B.C. legislature

Even a global pandemic has proven to be no match for local ingenuity. In the face of looming shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the wake of COVID-19, our local Bella Coola Makerspace rose to the challenge, using their equipment and expertise to manufacture hundreds of face shields for local frontline workers.

Just this last week their efforts were recognized in the B.C. Legislature in an address made by our local North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, who praised their commitment and dedication to ensuring that local workers would not go unprotected if shortages arose.

“We’re facing a global pandemic not seen in over 100 years,” said Rice. “Over the past few months we have seen diverse and creative expressions of solidarity, but there is one initiative in particular I’d like to recognize here on the North Coast.

“My riding has some of the most remote communities in the province and the isolation and lack of services makes our communities particularly sensitive to the potential effects of a local outbreak. When the pandemic began health providers in my riding worried about the lack of equipment and PPE in our hospitals and clinics. Seeing this vulnerability for his community in Bella Coola, James Hindley a local 3-D printing expert, worked together with local doctors, the Bella Coola Makerspace, and a global online community of creators to make hundreds of face shields and other PPE for the local hospital staff.”

Hindley and the rest of the Makerspace crew watched as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and created a combination of distribution failures, supply shortages and stockpiling caused a sudden unavailability in critical medical equipment worldwide. The Bella Coola Valley was no exception, with our remoteness further compounding an already difficult situation. Ventilators, face shields and even basic medical masks were suddenly impossible to procure, for any price.

Although isolated, Bella Coola was not alone in this experience; communities around the world were struggling with similar shortages. In response, the global opensource community rallied and began exploring locally implementable solutions – ways to build the required items on-demand, where they were needed.

From Arduino-based opensource ventilator controllers to 3D printed masks and face-shields, the Maker community scrambled to explore creative alternatives to sourcing the needed medical equipment.

Bella Coola Makerspace co founder Hindley was inspired to join this movement, and was soon surrounded by seven 3D printers – producing masks and face-shields at home. Shortly after joining a Facebook group called Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies – where makers, engineers, medical professionals and suppliers share ideas and designs – Hindley requested funds from the CCCS for this project and ordered two additional printers to support serial production.

After many sleepless nights building, troubleshooting and calibrating printers – using 3 different plastic filament types and experimenting with myriad 3D models – real product was coming off the home-assembly-line: 150 face-shields produced so far with 50 of them delivered to the Nuxalk Nation and 40 face mask ear-savers delivered to hospital staff. Autoclavable face masks will soon be molded and then cast with heat-tolerant resin, then trimmed with skin-safe silicone to achieve a snug fit.

The Bella Coola Makerspace was founded in 2018 with the vision of building local fabrication skills and capacity. The COVID19 related supply shortages have allowed for a powerful demonstration of high-precision, local fabrication of essential goods.

“As a community, we can all appreciate our remoteness, and thereby the need for self-reliance,” said Hindley. “In times of crisis, the ability to provide for our collective needs – including fabrication and of course much more – could make the difference between life and death. It’s time to start building more capacities at home.”

If you are interested in volunteering or would like to know more, please email James Hindley at sentinelrepair@gmail.com.

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