Percept Systems is one of few companies in Western Canada licensed for medical supply manufacturing.
UBC Okanagan alumnus Ephraim Nowak has mobilized his Kelowna company to produce more than 1,000 face shields per day in an effort to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.
His company, Percept Systems, which produces specialized computer vision systems for the aviation industry, is among the few in Western Canada to have obtained a federal government contract to supply this equipment to medical facilities across the country.
“This was the right thing to do,” says Nowak who completed his master’s degree with UBCO’s School of Engineering in 2018. “We were aware of the shortage of these critical medical supplies and wanted to pivot and help out where we could. That’s what we do.”
Nowak explains they changed the company’s priorities to respond to the Canadian government’s plea for assistance in medical supply manufacturing. It took Percept’s research and development team 48 hours to produce a design to make medical-grade face shields.
Their initial proposal involved using a 3D printer, which took two hours to produce one shield-too long by manufacturing industry standards. They then tried using a laser cutter to carve pre-purchased plastic into a face shield. This trimmed the manufacturing time to two minutes.
“It is challenging to retool the manufacturing focus of a company,” says Homayoun Najjaran, associate director of the manufacturing engineering program at UBCO, who consulted on Percept’s proposal. “Agile manufacturing, the ability to retool based on the customer need, is exactly where the future of manufacturing is. It is a great accomplishment that Ephraim and his team were awarded the contract and that their shields are licensed to use by Health Canada.”
Nowak acknowledges his partnership with Kelowna’s Orchard Park Shopping Centre for helping him increase Percept’s manufacturing capacity.
“Orchard Park Shopping Centre quickly provided us with suitable space for the manufacturing, packaging, and distribution of our shields,” he says. “It’s an innovative use of available space and I’m very grateful for their help in making this a reality.”
“We are very proud to be able to support a local company like Percept Systems as they do their part to assist in alleviating the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage for health-care workers,” said Donna Markin, general manager of Orchard Park Shopping Centre.
Percept Systems is rapidly expanding and implementing new technologies in their processes, with the goal of ensuring that Canada has a secure domestic source of PPE manufacturing.