TORONTO – As if its arrival triggered our liberation from gravity, the COVID-19 pandemic has suspended us. But while much of North America's life is hovering at half speed waiting for a return to normal, the feeling on the front line of fighting the effects of the virus is just the opposite.
Already tense efforts to cope with the increasing number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in Canada and the United States have been exacerbated by increasingly desperate calls from frontline medical personnel for the protective equipment needed to safely complete their jobs.
And amid these growing demands for support, the ice hockey world has given an unlikely answer.
In Blainville, Que., At Bauer Hockey's research and development center at the end of March, engineers from the hockey equipment manufacturer and its sister company Cascade from Liverpool, NY, first considered whether to produce items such as helmets and visors in face shields for Front workers. It only took four days to build a prototype, call in medical professionals, test it, get it certified, and get units off the assembly line.
On March 26, the company announced that it was authorized to continue providing medical personnel, which triggered an immediate flood of demand.
"We were overwhelmed with orders over a million units within 48 hours," said Mary-Kay Messier, Bauer's vice president of global marketing. "So we have now fully expanded our production capacity – 8,000 units per day are produced between the two plants, 4,000 in each plant."
But even if tens of thousands of face shields were made every week, it immediately became clear that a company that does its part is simply not enough. that greater, coordinated effort would be required, with thank you messages from those who equipped them being balanced by the ever-growing stack of requests.
"I have really mixed feelings," Messier says of the reaction she has seen from front workers so far. “Part of it is really proud – proud of our team to hear so many grateful comments from employees at the front. … On the other hand, I am sometimes devastated because we are already working to capacity.
"… It is devastating to think that people in this crisis do not have what they need."
So Bauer opened her doors. They shared the designs and supplier information for their face shields in the hope that other companies would address the cause. In this way, they have helped to stimulate a wave of equipment companies across North America, each enabling the lights to turn back on after the sports world has stopped and to join efforts to equip those who are at risk of their own health to care for others.
(photo courtesy of Bauer)
“It was part of our mission to inspire other companies – we're obviously not big enough to deal with global developments, but if we have many other companies to think about can inspire When every small, medium and large company takes up the helm and starts rowing, the collective effort becomes quite significant, ”says Messier. "And I think we'll see that here."
Similar to their first announcement, the response was tremendous, and companies of all sizes and capabilities were looking for ways to offer a gear or two to spin the larger machine.
"We have our employees in Liverpool and Blainville working around the clock to try to connect some of these companies that may not be able to do all of the manufacturing but can provide certain services or parts," says he Messier. “Maybe they can provide components or set up an assembly line. So there is a lot of work going on there to think about the collective mission of making only as many units as possible. "
One of the companies who heard this call and joined the cause was Sparx Hockey, a Massachusetts skate sharpening machine manufacturer.
Originally, the company examined the feasibility of creating masks with the existing machines – from a regulatory point of view a much larger task – and shifted the focus after Bauer got into the fight.
"One of our employees sent me a text with a picture from Bauer's social media post saying they would make shields," recalls Russ Layton, CEO of Sparx Hockey. “Our husband immediately wrote back: 'We can do that. & # 39; ”
That was Monday morning. On Monday evening they were all in looking for face protection. On Wednesday, Layton and Co. were back in the office and preparing for production – this processing time was the result of Bauer's willingness to help them get involved as quickly as possible.
"We turned to Bauer, they were fantastic – Bauer and Cascade – in sharing what they had learned so far," says Layton. "So we started sourcing all the materials, designing, prototyping, and so we introduced them, just a little bit away from everyone in the company."
Sparx’s situation is a microcosm of what is beginning to happen in the entire ice hockey world – the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship that helps companies get closed after the impact of the pandemic go and at the same time fill an emergency need for those in the effort to combat COVID-19.
“The day we were told that we had to shut down, we took around 70 percent of our workforce on leave,” says Layton. “As the founder of the company and someone who has been working on building this brand and company and the family we are working on our products for over five years, it was incredibly painful for me to have everything we spent This time, the building comes to a screeching halt. "
Signing up to help equip medical personnel meant a graded plan to get all Sparx employees on vacation back to work. And the chain reaction that started in Blainville continued – while Layton's company turned to suppliers about certain aspects of shield construction, they brought another manufacturer out of the dark to supply Sparx with one of the few materials they didn't already have Have disposal.
(photo courtesy of Sparx)
The ability to stay afloat while hockey as a whole is paused is the only additional bonus in their minds, in addition to simply wanting to do their part because the company does not make a profit from the shields, only calculating the cost of labor and materials required to manufacture them – as is the case with Bauer.
"We were able to get people back to work and help them maintain financial stability," says Messier about the situation at Bauer, which also stopped production and sales when the NHL paused its season. “And I think other companies can sense that too. To leave so many employees or send them home is a devastating thing. Bringing them back in a way that has such a meaningful impact – it's one thing to be able to work, but to be able to work with such a purpose, I simply can't really stress the impact it had on morals.
"… But surely profit is not an issue with this type of company – it is really just what we can do to help."
Layton reflects the same feeling and was similarly informed about the immense need for this help. Sparx is estimated to be able to produce at least 2,000 shields a day – possibly up to 3,000 a day – and has already seen a similar flood of demand from different types of frontline workers, different cities and different countries.
“We started around 7pm. [the first night] and in the morning we had demand for over 25,000 shields, ”says Layton. "… It is really heart-warming and a lump in your throat when you read the incoming commands. We can see the orders one by one when they come in, and they're police departments, they're fire departments, they're funeral homes, they're obviously hospitals – it's amazing how widespread this is. You know there are orders from California, Detroit, many orders actually from Canada. We even got a huge order from Sweden last night.
“It is a matter of giving priority to the medical personnel who are at the forefront. So we have to take our time and make sure that the customers who buy these products are the people we should give priority to. We have a team that is working on it. But we will work as hard and productive as possible to ensure that we can make as many shields as possible to support these efforts. "
This wave of support for the hockey community in the fight against COVID-19 is already adding thousands of required medical items to the supply chain every day.
Vaughn Hockey, also one of the first equipment companies to get involved when they were approached by a local ambulance service in late March to produce 18,000 dresses, was also able to get a significant portion of its employees back to work by providing their expertise to the cause.
They are now trying to diversify their approach beyond the manufacture of clothing, possibly in a way similar to that of Bauer and Sparx.
"We expose probes to the face shields – I think we could handle it, we have some laser cutting capabilities. We have the foams, the Velcro straps and the rubber bands, so we expose the probes," says Kevin Collins, Vaughn Hockeys Vice President of Manufacturing. "Face masks really depend on the materials. We don't really know the materials used. We really only need someone who works in this area to supply the supplier and manufacturer. Once we have these things in our hands, they are really easy to make.
"We have the capacity. So if someone is listening out there, hopefully they will throw it in our direction and we can help where we can."
In the meantime, important players in the equipment industry continue to participate every week. CCM – whose work flow was similarly interrupted along with the rest of the industry – had meetings to discuss how best to help equip front workers, says lead engineer and prototype maker Marco Argentino, and is currently working on a number of the Ideas to determine where they can make the most impact. New Balance – the parent company of hockey equipment manufacturer Warrior – has shifted its focus to its American facilities to also develop face masks for the medical community.
The move to act across the hockey world was quick and probably unexpected for outsiders. It was only three weeks ago that the NHL took a break in its 2019-20 season, a move that would likely close all hockey companies in the foreseeable future while addressing more pressing issues.
"If you told me a month ago that my entire operation would make medical face shields to protect the front of our health care system from a global pandemic, I would have thought you were crazy," says Layton. "But I mean, we did it. And we did it very quickly. "
If you take a step back, it should come as no surprise that the hockey community rose as quickly as possible, Messier says. In your opinion, it's just part of the DNA of sport.
“I'm really not surprised because we see so many great things in hockey – I really believe that it is unique among all other sports in terms of community connectivity, culture, desire and passion help, "she says." When you think of Humboldt, think about how the entire hockey community came together to support these families and this community.
"So when I think of people in the hockey game from this perspective, it's no wonder that hockey comes together and sets aside their own plans for this collective mission."
All you need is to ask others who are involved in sport whether this feeling is confirmed. "We are a pretty close community," says Collins from Vaughn. "… We all know what each other's strength is, and we all stick to what we do best, and I think we all get together and understand in a time of need that we are all involved are." CCM's Argentino adds: “People focus less on themselves than on the community. And you can see that there is a desire, "How can I help? How can I get out of what I normally do to help what lies ahead, this big thing that affects us worldwide?" It moves people . "
The hope is that Messier says it will continue to do so – to move, to inspire, with these efforts to provide support only in the earliest stages.
"Although we have made progress and I think things are improving, it is not enough," she says. "There is just so much to do."