Stories & Features

Pivoting your production during COVID-19

Image of customer and grocery store worker physically distanced by plexiglass guard
Port Coquitlam based kostklip® evolved their production amid COVID-19 to design and create sneeze guards and face shields to help protect essential workers.

B.C. company undergoes priceless production shift

Life has changed for everyone since mid-March. And with that change came the need for all of us to adapt and reprioritize. During this period, it's been interesting to see how modern manufacturing processes have allowed some businesses to rapidly pivot their production output to meet dramatically evolving needs – especially in healthcare and PPE (personal protective equipment).

Back in January, Dave Weller, CEO of kostklip®, could never have imagined that his retail display products company would have diversified into PPE for paramedics by April.

Founded by a Vancouver Island grocery store manager 50 years ago, kostklip® started out making clip-on pricing products for grocery store shelves. Today, they produce a wide range of pricing, promotional and advertising displays for retail chains across North and South America.

"Our team of 100 is based in Port Coquitlam," says Dave. "We were already growing before the pandemic started and have been for a number of years. With the increase in demand during this time, we've grown our labour force by 25%, hiring those in our community that have lost their jobs due to the pandemic."

The calm before the storm

Right at the beginning of the COVID-19 restrictions, Dave and his team saw a brief pause in demand as grocery stores took stock of the situation. And then suddenly, they were busier than ever.

But alongside all their display products, the team also saw there was a new need for sneeze guards to protect grocery staff at checkouts and deli/bakery counters. "Our product design guys are very much in touch with what's going on out there," says Dave. "So they brought some really slick products to the table before anybody else did."

From selling bread to saving lives

And it was while they were finalizing the sneeze guards that one of the product design engineers saw a much bigger opportunity to help. "He has friends that work in healthcare and one of them was a design engineer himself in a previous life. So he had a fun time with our team designing a face shield that utilizes our materials and manufacturing processes to satisfy BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) paramedic needs."

"We pulled it off in about a week and a half, working around the clock, prototyping, testing, prototyping, testing, and tweaking the design with BCEHS."

During this design phase, Dave noticed that a lot of other businesses were also starting to make face shields, but they were all using the same constrained supply of raw materials. "That means more businesses all fighting for the same materials. As a result, the net increase in production of face shields is limited. Our design uses different materials. So we're not competing and we feel like we're helping to increase the availability of PPE."

With BCEHS hungry for PPE supplies and kostklip® ready to go into production, there was only one problem: kostklip® weren't licensed to provide PPE for medical use. But when they demonstrated how fast they could scale up production to meet the unprecedented demand, their Medical Device Establishment License (MDEL) was awarded in just a few days – a process that, according to Health Canada's website, could normally take up to 4 months.

"The province is exploring how we might supply other health authorities. It's opened everyone's eyes up to what the supply chain looks like. Having your PPE dependent on an international supply chain is proving to be unwise," says Dave.

WFH and LED

This increase in kostklip®'s production has come at the same time as an LED lighting upgrade supported by a BC Hydro incentive program. "We worked with BC Hydro a while back to figure out how to make our machinery more efficient, which led us to the lighting upgrade program," says Dave. "So while we're in the middle of all this craziness, we're also going to be upgrading all the lighting in our building, which works well since 90% of the staff in the office are working from home. In the plant, our contractor will be working around our team to install new lighting. Everyone's eager to get brighter lights to help us make sure BC Emergency Health Services have all the face shields they need."

Get the latest COVID-19 advice for your business

Make sure your team and your business are benefitting from the latest BC Government advice on COVID-19, including their Support for Businesses information.

And of course, BC Hydro is here to help. Reach out to your Key Account Manager or Regional Energy Manager if you have any questions or concerns.