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Businesses helping in the fight against COVID-19

Businesses across the Highlands and Islands are changing their operations and processes to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

Highlands and Islands businesses step-up to battle COVID-19

Businesses across the country are being asked to help in the fight against Coronavirus (COVID-19). The government is looking for businesses who can change their day-to-day operations to help support with many critical supplies to support the NHS. Calls have included producing ventilator’s and test kits; offering critical cleaning services, producing clothing and personal protection equipment (PPE) amongst other innovative solutions.

Here are just some of the Highlands and Islands businesses taking on the challenge and fighting COVID-19 head on.

Alness based business produces testing components and PPE equipment to battle COVID-19

Porex Technologies Limited engineer high-value solutions for customer product design challenges in absorption, application, diffusion, filtration, venting, and wicking. These advanced porus solutions can be applied in a wide variety of industries including medical devices.

From their Alness base, the business is now supplying critical products to help the world battle against the virus. When the pandemic started to sweep the globe and calls for support hit, they immediately turned their operations towards helping to battle the virus and help flatten the curve in three key areas:

  • Providing diagnostic testing components outlined by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). This includes synthetic nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swabs used for collecting respiratory samples from exposed or symptomatic patients and aerosol barrier filters for pipette tips that prevent cross-contamination between patient samples and protect laboratory personnel and equipment from contamination. 

  • Other diagnostic testing components approved or in process with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow patient testing at the point of care including prefilters and serum filters used to prepare samples for testing and wicks, filters and absorption media used in the transport and processing of COVID-19 assays.
  • Moisture-absorbing, breathable facial foam components in N95 respirators and face masks used to protect the wearer from airborne particles, including the COVID-19 virus. 

 

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staff from Porex

Published 26.03.20

Project Corran - Inverness companies collaborate to make 1,000 face-shields and release design for open-source manufacture

Two innovative companies based in Inverness have joined forces to meet the current urgent need for PPE.  4c Engineering and Aseptium are neighbours in HIE’s Solasta House facility on the Inverness Campus. They contacted the local hospital to see if their combined design and rapid manufacturing capabilities could be used to tackle a range of key challenges. Their offer to produce face shields was take up by the ICU team at Raigmore. This started Project Corran (taken from the Gaelic for crescent, the shape of the face shield when viewed from above).

Working to a clear brief, the team designed the simplest method of providing face protection that would be robust, secure, comfortable and could be rapidly manufactured in volume.

Part way through the design process, the supply chain challenge increased due to national lockdown which severely curtailed material availability, however led by the Inverness Chamber of Commerce, the business community rallied and went to extra lengths in providing materials - see list below.

After sourcing materials and refining the design throughout the week, a meeting was held on Friday afternoon where the first prototype was presented to Raigmore ICU and Infection Control staff – they were happy with it exactly as it was, and gave the green light for 1,000 units

Under the organised leadership of 4c’s Jenny Allen, the Project Corran team worked right through the weekend in shifts of staff and volunteers, and the first 200 face shields were delivered to Raigmore on Monday afternoon.

Design made freely available 

The Corran design is simple, and unlike alternatives does not require 3D printing – it is made of four commonly available components. The design is being made freely available and can be found on this link https://bit.ly/33YS9Ju with full manufacture guidance. The only requests are that design credit is given, modified designs have an equally open license and that manufacture is non-profit. Wider adoption is already underway; Lochgilphead-based Midton Engineering have taken the design, had it approved by hospitals in Oban and Mid-Argyll and are now moving into manufacture.

Thanks to the following companies and organisations:

  • Supplies & Materials: Dunelm Mill, James Dow, Highland Office Equipment, Porex Technologies Ltd
  • Volunteers & Advice: HIE, SMAS, LifeScan, Glenmore Lodge, Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Varrich Engineering

Hear from those involved

Commenting on the project, Peter MacDonald, Director of 4c Engineering said:

“The end result of this engineering, procurement and manufacturing challenge is a simple and efficient design, however this is the result of considerable applied innovation to mitigate the supply chain constraints.

Although national procurement of PPE has been progressing at pace, we were able to ensure that the ICU in Raigmore, our local hospital, was well provided with the first 1,000 Corran face-shields and as we’ve made it open-source we hope that the lessons we’ve learned can be applied by makers across the country and beyond." 

Pawel de Sternberg Stojalowski of Aseptium added:

“This project is a testimony to what a collective of engineers can achieve when they face a challenge together. It's all about community and collaboration.”

Jenny Allen, of 4c Engineering who managed the production process echoed this:

“It's been amazing working with a talented team to get the job done.  Everyone has come up with ideas, discussed problems (how do we have tables close enough to pass the visors along the production line while staying 2m apart?) and got completely stuck in to get the visors to the NHS staff who need it”

Stewart Nicol, Chief Executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce added:

 “I congratulate Chamber members 4c Engineering and their partners on an outstanding and remarkable achievement. It has been great to work with them to help source materials and local suppliers. The delivery of a substantial quantity of this vital equipment to help NHS Highland deal with the challenge of COVID-19 in such a short timescale is outstanding. To make their design ‘open source’ is a credit to everyone at 4c Engineering and it is fantastic to see innovative Highland businesses leading the way.“

From Raigmore Hospital, Dr. Jonathan Whiteside, Clinical Lead, Department of Critical Care, said:

“Whilst we are generally happy with the NHS supply chain, at times of great demand, such as we are seeing with the CoViD-19 pandemic, there can be interruptions or shortages. We were delighted to be approached by 4c Engineering, who were able to source materials locally, and produce much needed protective visors. These have been put to immediate clinical use in our Intensive Care Unit, providing staff with the necessary protection and allowing them to continue to provide high quality care, during these difficult times. Our whole team are extremely grateful and are proud to be supported by local businesses working together, and helping us care for our patients in NHS Highland”

Update 16.04.20

Lifescan join Project Corran 

LifeScan is helping in the battle to keep frontline workers supplied with vital safety equipment as they treat patients with coronavirus.

Inverness's largest private sector employer is assisting a small consortium of city companies working to produce face shields for health workers.

As the Courier previously reported Aseptium and 4c Engineering, based at Inverness Campus, came up with a way of producing shields that would be robust, secure and comfortable and could be rapidly manufactured in volume.

Now LifeScan, which specialises in making diagnostic equipment for diabetes, has stepped in to provide extra manpower, with more than 3000 protective visors now having been manufactured for use by NHS Highland staff so far.

Peter Macdonald from 4c Engineering said: "To date we’ve supplied over 3000 to NHS and social care organisations, and we’ve got another 3000 going through production.

“The Corran Visor project is a great demonstration of the Highlands business community, bringing together 4c Engineering’s innovation, Aseptium’s expertise and Lifescan’s manufacturing strength to deliver a much needed supply of equipment.

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Peter MacDonald, Director of 4c Engineering based on Inverness Campus

Inverness Campus organisations help tackle COVID-19

Commercial firms and academic organisations at Inverness Campus have responded collaboratively to the national effort to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

At Solasta House, the purpose-built life sciences building, ODx Innovations is utilising its analytics equipment, processes and expert management in setting up clinical testing and diagnostics.

Aseptium and 4c Engineering are working on producing various forms of personal protective equipment (see full article above).

The University of the Highlands and Islands is supporting NHS services by offering scientific expertise, laboratory facilities and teaching equipment.

Lab staff at Scotland’s Rural College, at An Lòchran, have also offered their time and expertise for particular aspects of the national effort.

As part of the developing collaborative response, local academic and commercial laboratory capacity for future sample testing is being explored as a matter of urgency.

The work of these organisations is deemed key to the wider effort to tackle the COVID-19 spread, and any employees going into work are following all the strict guidelines for firms operating during lockdown.

James Cameron, head of life sciences at HIE, said:

“This is clearly a time of national crisis, and something none of us really anticipated. Since the outset of Inverness Campus development, the principle and ethos has always been about collaboration between commercial companies, research bodies and academic institutions. It’s impressive how this has manifested itself as we respond to the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re aware that some members of the public have expressed concern that people still appear to be working on Inverness Campus. It’s important to stress that anyone going into work on Inverness Campus at the moment is in some way involved in a key aspect of the national effort to tackle this terrible virus and they are all following the strict guidelines in place for employees at work during lockdown.”

Giles Hamilton, CEO of ODx Innovations (ODx) said:

“Our staff and partners are working tirelessly to support the current and future needs of patients. We are grateful for the recent support and appreciation we have received from NHS staff and the community in Inverness and the Highlands in doing this.” 

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Exterior view of Solosta house on Inverness Campus

Argyll tech firm in global ventilator challenge

An Argyll technology firm is playing a key role in the supply of ventilators across the world due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Flexible Technology Limited (FTL) is expecting to produce around 100,000 printed circuit boards (PCBs) for one of the world’s leading manufacturers of actuators, which are critical in the production of ventilators.

FTL was established in 1980 and produces a range of flexible circuit, flex-rigid circuit, multilayer and printed circuit boards to various design requirements. The company has implemented strict social distancing and PPE measures at its plant in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute to enable the majority of its 35 highly-skilled employees to continue working.

Orders currently stand at 65,000 units, with one unit used per ventilator, and FTL is anticipating orders for a further 35,000.

Peter Timms, chair and managing director of Flexible Technology Limited, said:

“This is an exceptional time for all of us, and our outstanding workforce are pulling out all the stops to meet increased demand for the Flexible Circuits used in the critical medical equipment. A key challenge for us in the current climate is to protect our employees and we have implemented a series of distancing and health measures to reduce risk.”

HIE has worked closely with FTL for several years, providing various forms of business support.

Morag Goodfellow, area manager at HIE in Argyll, said:

“There are many examples of companies across the Highlands and Islands that are working on various aspects of tackling the COVID-19 crisis. FTL is a long-established firm and an important employer on Bute. It’s a great example of a company able to respond quickly to an urgent international need. Their expertise in this high-tech field is proving vital and we wish them every success in meeting the increased demand while protecting their employees.”

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Flexible technology building Isle of Bute

HIE employee volunteers to meet PPE demand

A development manager at HIE is helping to create thousands of face guards for key workers in the Highlands.

Lizi Blackwood, from Thurso in Caithness, is accompanying six volunteers to hand-make the equipment to meet demand for PPE in the north.

Lizi is using her volunteer days from HIE to support her father, Ken Hooker, after his manufacturing company Proteus Packaging Systems Ltd began making face guards for NHS hospitals in England.

The Ashley Ann kitchens showroom in Thurso will now be transformed into the command centre for the scheme where volunteers will help assemble the face guards.

Around 4,000 face guards have already been distributed with a further 3,000 due to be manufactured. Birchwood Highland and Thurso Fire Station are among the organisations benefiting from the scheme as well as some care homes and GP surgeries.

Lizi said: “It’s a bit overwhelming. Something that started off as an idea to make a few boxes of face shields and see how we get on has really grown arms and legs. The community response has been incredible, and I feel that has probably been the most rewarding part of all this.

“My eight-year-old daughter, Lily is also helping with relief efforts by writing letters to vulnerable residents living alone or in care homes in the community.

“I am fortunate to be able to use my employer’s volunteer days, which is a fantastic way to do some great work for important causes.”

Lizi has also launched an online crowdfunding appeal in support of her family’s PPE initiative, raising more than £500 for the cause.

HIE is a long-time supporter of employee volunteering, particularly where there is a social impact on the local communities it serves. The organisation encourages employees to take up to three volunteer days a year. Volunteering opportunities are currently focused on contributing to the COVID-19 response and this is an excellent example.  

Helen Herd, senior HR manager at HIE, said: “Many employees across HIE take advantage of the volunteer days each year. Clearly, it’s difficult at the moment, due the COVID-19 lockdown, so it’s fantastic that Lizi is able to use her volunteer days so effectively and we wish the project every success.”

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Lizi Blackwood, HIE Development Manager developing PPE

Praise for Moray firms involved in COVID effort

Companies in Moray are among many across Scotland involved in tackling the COVID-19 crisis.Textile firm, Great Scot (Scotland) Ltd, is producing fabric face masks to meet demand, not just in Scotland but the UK and around the world.

The masks are being produced by home-workers and have been exported to countries as far away as Puerto Rico and New Zealand.

Income from the venture is enabling the Keith based firm to donate masks to non-medical key workers, such as delivery drivers and shop assistants.

For every three masks ordered at the same time, customers are given one free mask to donate in their local area.

Margo Page, Great Scot managing director, described the masks as a ‘strange and unexpected new passion’ for the firm. She added:

“Many of our overseas customers asked us to make coordinating face masks for our other clothing products. We looked at the advice that health authorities around the world were giving to their populations and concluded it was the right thing to do.

“We made a few and gave them away. Within a couple of weeks, the demand had grown exponentially. We bought extra machines and materials, and trained our team to make masks.

“While it's barely sustainable financially, it is meeting international demand and contributing to wider efforts to tackle the pandemic. It is also keeping our team engaged and maintaining the Great Scot brand profile.”

Meanwhile many local distilleries, such as Avva Distillery in Elgin, are producing hand sanitiser to help meet unprecedented demand.

This trend has also seen Forres based Maclean’s Bakery step up to supply Avva with free glycerine, a vital ingredient in sanitiser and one that is also used in cakes.

Lewis Maclean, the firm’s managing director, said they are keen to do what they can to help protect the community.

Makar Technologies, based at Enterprise Park Forres, meanwhile is supporting other technology firms involved in producing components for ventilators.
David King, Makar managing director, explained:

“We are supplying components for resuscitation equipment, normally produced by some of the larger technology firms. This frees up their capacity to meet the increased demand for ventilator components.”

Baxter’s of Speyside has implemented strict social distancing measures at its plant in Fochabers to keep its three production lines running. These have been kept busy producing soups for government care packs.

HIE has been working with all these companies over several years. Stuart Black, HIE area manager in Moray, said:

“There are many examples of companies across Moray, the Highlands and Islands and Scotland that are working on various aspects of the effort to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

“It is heartening to see the tremendous expertise and innovation among Moray businesses being utilised in this way as they respond to the national emergency.”

Sarah Medcraf of Moray Chamber of Commerce, added:

“It’s great to see Moray businesses supporting the efforts to tackle the COVID crisis. We know the sense of community is strong in Moray, so this linked with some quick and innovative thinking has demonstrated some of the region’s strengths.

"The chamber has been supporting its members with information and advice and taking part in twice weekly business resilience meetings with public and private sector organisations across our area”.

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Model wearing tartan face mask produced during COVID-19