Local manufacturing firms that entered medical sector plan to stay there after COVID-19

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Windsor Star/Trevor Wilhelm




Despite production starting to ramp up in the auto sector, dozens of local manufacturing firms that branched into the health-care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic plan to stay there.

“I’m awfully proud of the manufacturing sector in coming together to take a real shot at this,” said Mike Bilton, chair of the Canadian Association of Moldmakers. “I’m really proud of the folks who took a real hard look at what they needed to do to make it happen and add another book of business to their shops.”

Surveys from both the Canadian Association of Moldmakers and the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation show local companies pivoted to making medical supplies when other work dried up, and intend to keep dedicating part of their operations to that business.

The economic development corporation surveyed 52 companies. About 64 per cent of the companies said they were doing production specifically tied to COVID-19. Most were involved in the production of face shields, ventilators and new technologies developed in response to the pandemic.

About 62 per cent of the respondents stated they were directly supplying local needs.

More than 60 per cent planned to continue the production of medical products, materials or related services after the pandemic.

The economic development corporation said “one of the more interesting and innovative pivots” came from Windsor’s Vista Solutions, which develops and integrates machine vision technology in automotive manufacturing, food processing and consumer products.

Vista adapted its knowledge of thermal technologies, more commonly used in producing electrified vehicles, to measure skin temperature. The contactless skin monitoring system can detect people with elevated body temperatures and screen for illness in workplaces such as large manufacturing facilities or hospitals.

“WEEDC’s Business Retention and Expansion team has been working to support and connect the many Windsor-Essex companies who are reshaping their operations to produce COVID-19 related items,” said Wendy Stark, manager of business retention and expansion for the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation.

“It has been heartening to see evidence, yet again, of our region’s ability to work together, to design and produce what is needed in times of crisis and uncertainty.”

The latest in a series of weekly surveys from the Canadian Association of Moldmakers also shows many companies expanded into the medical sector during the pandemic.

A total of 571 companies have taken the survey at some point over the last eight weeks, including 359 from the Windsor-Essex area.

About one third of respondents each week said they were able to “answer the call” for the production of tooling for medical equipment manufacturing.

Three-quarters of the companies who pivoted to manufacturing medical equipment plan to continue servicing that sector, according to the survey.

Aside from helping out communities, Bilton said the ability to diversify and create cash flow was also important at a time when traditional business suddenly dried up.

“Financially it works very well for some companies who were able to do that,” he said.

“Whether it’s short or long term, for companies to be able to branch off and do a different type of commodity, it’s a nice diversification element to their core business.”

Overall, the survey shows automation and manufacturing is beginning to ramp up again with the return of automotive production, some hiring, new business awards and the resumption of previously postponed work.

“I don’t think we’re out of the woods just yet,” said Bilton. “It all comes down to the next 30 to 45 days. Speaking in terms of automotive, if the ramp up is smooth and efficient and the demand is there for new product to be sold off the lots, then we’ll get back into the cycle. It’s going to come down to the next 30 to 45 days to see how the demand out there is realized and recognized.”