From Toys to Masks
Irwin Executive’s COVID illness leads to Collingwood PPE factory
What do you do when COVID-19 makes you terribly sick? You figure out a way to reduce the chance of that happening to others. That’s the case with George Irwin, self-professed “Toycoon” and Owner of Irwin Toy, along with business partner Brenda Elliott, Senior Vice President of Global Business Development at the company. The couple have made Collingwood a hub for PPE production with their brand new company, Trebor RX Corp.
Week one: 1,000,000+ masks on order When the couple fell severely ill with COVID-19 in March 2020, they stumbled upon an opportunity to protect others. Irwin received a phone call from a friend who had converted his toy factory to produce PPE. He asked if they would like masks for the North American market, at which point Irwin reached out to hospitals in Collingwood and Orillia and obtained an order for 440,000 masks on day one and over a million by the end of the first week.
Soon afterwards, the pair began working on the Pro+ Dual Respirator mask, originally designed in South Africa by Elliott’s nephew and currently awaiting Health Canada approval. The pair used their template for toy safety to guide them through design and production of the Pro+. Even before its release, the innovative device has received an upgrade through partnership with Thunder Bay firm Zen Graphene. “They have added another layer of protection to the mask, a virucide good against all viruses and particulate,” explains Irwin. “It doesn’t just protect against COVID; it’s effective against all viruses, including the flu.”
High-tech mask leverages toy-production cost savings A true game changer, The Pro+ is now 99 per cent efficacious in preventing transmission of COVID-19. The mask filters air intake as well as outflow and provides 30 days or 300+ hours of use. Its 95 per cent recyclable respirator body will replace vast quantities of disposable masks, helping to reduce medical waste. Though its N95 filter needs to be changed every ten to twelve hours, each mask comes with a filter and will retail for a fraction of the cost of other options available. It is also customizable depending on the level of protection desired: Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3. It also comes in five sizes to fit children, teens and adults.
Collingwood: a strategic location for manufacture For Irwin, beginning production of the innovative new mask in Collingwood was a strategic move. “As a local manufacturer, we can ship products almost immediately; customers don’t have to wait a week or two to have it flown in on a plane or three and a half or four weeks by ship,” says Irwin. “In my opinion, there’s no advantage to making it in China or anywhere else because it’s a moulded part; a very easy mask to manufacture.”
Irwin and Elliott also selected Collingwood as their manufacturing hub because it’s where they live. Elliott has owned a vacation home in the area for 20 years, but the couple only moved to Collingwood two and a half years ago. “I wouldn’t go anywhere else,” Irwin says. “It’s a four-season place, the snow is white, we bike and ski and play golf and walk and ride. We’re enjoying everything Collingwood has to offer.”
The Town of Collingwood has enthusiastically embraced the new venture. According to Irwin, the Town has shown support at every step of the process in building their new factory. The firm will continue to manufacture its masks in a temporary space until mid-March, but is in the process of outfitting a 23,000-square-foot factory to produce 50,000 respirators per day, pending Health Canada approval.
Local expertise at play In its efforts to scale up, Trebor RX is leveraging local resources in various ways: by using Collingwood’s ARO Technologies for its automation control expertise and Civiera International Inc. for the mask recycling. The company intends to hire up to 100 local workers, many of whom lost jobs at the start of the pandemic. They are eager to be part of something new and innovative, and to enable the strong production that is needed to fulfill the current backlog of orders.
The Trebor RX Pro+ is currently available to non-medical workers like firemen, construction workers and police, but is awaiting Health Canada approval for application in health care settings. It is also available to the general public. Interested buyers can call the Trebor RX offices or email them at [email protected].
Says Irwin, “The Pro+ will help transform the PPE industry and it’s great that it comes right from here.” We concur; the introduction of this new and timely PPE device will put Collingwood on the map as a category leader in personal protective equipment in Canada, if not North America.