Collingwood Businesses’ Ingenious Covid Adaptations
The coronavirus epidemic has changed our working lives. Like businesses everywhere, many in the Collingwood / South Georgian Bay area have suffered, but others have found opportunity. Here are some of the ingenious ways that our local tech-focused companies have found opportunity. Here are some of the ingenious ways that our local tech-focused companies have adapted:
Facilitating PPE production
Sensor Technology Ltd. is a leading designer and manufacturer of piezoelectric ceramic solutions, custom acoustic transducers and custom hydrophones. The 35-year-old company manufactures high-tech equipment for the world’s navies and fishing fleets, among others.
Business with core customers is still brisk, but the coronavirus outbreak has spawned two new opportunities with personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacture. The first has to do with ventilators, which have a valve that uses piezoelectric ceramics. “With the uptick in domestic ventilator production, we reached out to a number of Canadian ventilator manufacturers,” explains Sensor Technology President, Niru Somayajula. “We like to work with companies that are offering something new and we want to help with a made-in-Canada solution.”
The second opportunity lies with the piezoelectric-ceramic components of ultrasonic welding equipment, which is used to make the masks and shields that are in huge demand right now. “We’re moving further into automation because of the higher volume,” says Somayajula. We just hired a business development person for our Nova Scotia office and we’re actively looking for more production people in Collingwood.”
AGNORA is a customer service company that fabricates the largest architectural glass in North America, including that found in airport control towers and Apple storefronts across the continent. In 2020 AGNORA had a record first quarter—and business hasn’t slowed down. There has been just one little hiccup: “A large portion of our glass is destined for the U.S., explains Adam Mitchell, AGNORA’s Marketing Manager. “We’ve been storing glass for our customers when states such as New York are locked down. We’re at the point now where business keeps coming and we’re eager to get glass out the door and to our customers.”
With a large indoor footprint and wide corridors, the company hasn’t had to change much to maintain social distance, but they have found another ingenious way to keep employees healthy and happy—as well as to support local producers. The AGNORA Market puts together great food from local vendors such as potatoes, dairy, meat, vegetables and more.
“We take everyone’s order and then our staff volunteer to sort and pack boxes for each employee,”. “That way, no one has to go into a grocery store. We’re safeguarding our people and supporting the local economy.” The program has been running for six weeks now, kicking $5,000 to $6,000 per week back to local producers. With a huge production area, AGNORA staff were able to use this bounty to celebrate the company’s 9th anniversary in early May. Staff put together a 156-foot table, ensuring 6 feet of separation in all directions so that every employee was able to safely partake in a sit-down meal together. ‘Don’t pass the peas, please!’
Know when your stuff is in stock
AdBank Network offers a fraud-proof, artificial intelligence-enabled online ad platform that lets advertisers reduce costs and improve performance. As the pandemic took hold in late March 2020, the Collingwood-based tech company started applying their skills to the crisis.
“With the varied skill sets we have, we figured we could find a way to help,” said Connor Watt, AdBank’s lead developer.
Connor and his team developed an app that solves a very common coronavirus-related problem. “At the moment there are a lot of people who can’t get the items that they need, so we developed an app that helps solve that.” The application is called Essential Goods. It monitors the Amazon marketplace, checking stock and filtering out counterfeit products. When an essential item that someone is looking for comes back in stock, the user receives a mobile text alert.
The service is up and running at https://essentialgoods.org. It’s free for frontline medical staff and senior citizens, with a small fee for others. Five per cent of profits are being donated to local charities. “What constitutes essential goods is different for everyone,” said Watt. “It’s important that people get the stuff they need, especially at a time like this.”
Remote rock stars
Switch Video works with clients worldwide producing high quality, memorable custom videos that help explain their complex ideas, increasing their brand awareness and conversion rates. With customers around the globe, cloud-based project management and communication tools (Google, Slack, Teamwork, etc.) and a virtual product, remote work is nothing new for the Collingwood company: they rarely meet their clients in person.
While Switch employees comfortably work from home, business owner Brandon Houston’s other business, The Foundry, has had to shutter temporarily. The co-working space shares a brick-and-beam loft-style office with Switch. “I’ve been continuing one-on-one meetings with businesses looking for support or consulting,” says Houston. “Our weekly Open Coffee shifted to Zoom and that’s been pretty amazing from a facilitation standpoint. We’ve been leveraging Zoom in some unique ways using the breakout rooms and polls during our meetings.”
Houston has also heard from people who said once things get back to a new normal they can’t wait to join The Foundry because they’re tired of working from home. “I think there’s actually going to be a shift.” In his spare time, Houston drew on his coder skills to build and launch Collingwood Commons, a clearinghouse for local goods and services offered while storefronts are still closed. See more at https://shop.collingwoodcommons.com.
Putting employee safety first in manufacturing
Macleans Engineering is a heavy equipment innovation engine with roots in underground mining. With headquarters in Collingwood and over 1,000 people throughout Ontario and around the world, the company sells machines and support services into 23 countries on six continents.
“We shut down for two weeks off in late March,” explains Stuart Lister, VP Marketing & Communications with Macleans. “That gave us the time we needed to come back into production in a safe and measured way.” Much of that effort fell to Erin Moffat-Lynch, CRSP, who heads up the company’s Health & Safety program. Working with the management team, she put protocols into place that are well ahead of government mandates. For example, an online database lets employees check in as ‘ready to work’ or ‘staying home’ due to cold-like symptoms or recent travel, with visibility to managers. Every employee who wishes to work is screened as they come in every day. Shifts are staggered, cleaning is more frequent and markings on the floor clearly indicate traffic flow. Where employees have to get together, for instance to look at large format machine drawings, tables are bisected with clear plastic screens. Macleans is currently running at about 70% of normal capacity.
A good time for infrastructure work
Tatham Engineering provides consulting engineering, design and construction services for land development, municipal infrastructure, structural, transportation, water resources, and water and wastewater engineering. While the current crisis has caused the company slowed down in some areas, it has accelerated in others.
What better time to carry out much-needed Main Street repairs than when everyone is staying home? That was the conclusion quickly reached by Tatham and municipal clients like the City of Barrie. While Tatham transitioned 100+ office workers to work from home and all commercial/institutional construction projects were put on hold, some crews were kept busy with critical infrastructure projects like the reconstruction of Dunlop Street in Barrie, which proceeded full steam ahead.
But while many construction projects are on hold, many more are in the works. “Clients are using this lull as an opportunity to move projects ahead with design to get ready for construction,” explains Tatham President Dan Hurley. “As a result, our design teams have stayed busy. The one thing the company has had to hold back on is hiring seasonal staff for construction support. “But the signs are good that we are likely to come out of this as busy or busier than usual.”