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Local Soo entrepreneur uses 3D printing to make thousands of face shields

Maker North pivoted entire business to support frontline workers

In the early days of the pandemic, many smart and savvy people were quick to pivot. They didn’t hesitate to jump in and offer assistance, wanting to provide as much help as possible.

One such example can be found in a small local company, Maker North, and its Founder and Director Joseph Bertrand.

Maker North is located in Sault Ste. Marie and offers 3D printing, laser cutting, design services, education and prototype development. The business was Bertrand’s brainchild; he started the whole endeavour in his garage.

Some of Maker North’s customers are entrepreneurs who need help bringing their own products to market. Others are businesses or individuals who want to purchase a product that they can 3D print or laser cut.

It’s truly amazing what can be accomplished working out of an 800-sq.-ft. workshop. In a short time, Bertrand and his team have designed and manufactured numerous products, grown a devoted client base and secured their position as the first-to-market in Northern Ontario.

Early in 2020, from the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Maker North was hit hard. At that point they were also operating a communal Maker Space, which, due to the restrictions in place, had to be shut down.

Yet Bertrand immediately knew what to do. He and his team were keen to help out, so they jumped right in, designing their own PPE to help healthcare and essential workers. They used their 3D printers to print thousands of face shields.

In fact, not only did the company ramp up production, they changed the whole purpose of the business. Maker North had started out in its early days as an additive manufacturing facility, became a popular Maker Space and was now back to being a full-time manufacturer once again.

“Over the years we have learned how to be an innovator in the Algoma Region by being the most advanced manufacturer in the area,” says Bertrand. “We have the most 3D printers and the largest laser cutter in the area—as well as a talented team of employees.”

Bertrand, a long-time Soo resident, worked in public service until his retirement in 2018 and is a dedicated tech enthusiast. He is also a strong advocate for additive manufacturing as an engine of economic and social change in the community.

He works closely alongside Riley Drover, the Chief Design Technician at Maker North.

Drover is a talented graphic designer who graduated from Sault College in 2015.

Maker North was able to receive a Medical Device Establishment License from the government and some financial assistance through the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre’s Business Technology Improvement Fund, which is supported by FedNor. This enabled Bertrand to able to invest in injection molding equipment. The company partnered with Rynz Innovative Tooling Inc. in Seguin, Ontario and together they started producing the much-needed face shields.

They ordered several new 3D printers to help them keep up with the demand. For two months straight they worked tirelessly, printing 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Face shields were sent to the Sault Area Hospital, the fire department, first responders and frontline workers, including Sault Transit Operators. They were distributed locally and across Northeastern Ontario—some even made it as far as the Yukon.

As it happens, this all aligned perfectly with the vision Bertrand had in mind when he first started the business. His goal was always to use the best technology locally to solve local problems.

Giving thanks

Bertrand is grateful for the help his company has received.

The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce has given Maker North access to its network of professionals, allowing the company to develop a local supply chain with other area businesses who are also chamber members. The Chamber is actively promoting Maker North Inc. through the #lovelocal campaign. CEO Rory Ring has been available to Bertrand and helped with any questions he had regarding legislative and government policies.

“I would also like to say thank you to the local innovation centre that has provided excellent service and support through the last four years,” he says. “The team at the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre has allowed us an opportunity to succeed with local entrepreneurs and businesses alike.”

Looking ahead

The company continues to sell Canadian-made face shields to individuals, companies and educational facilities all across the country. They are also working on two new products—Face Savers and Ear Savers—that allow you to wear masks more comfortably.

Another current project has them working on prototyping retrofit parts for a local seniors’ care centre. “The parts they need are no longer available and we can save them thousands of dollars making a comparable replacement part,” Bertrand says.

They are also developing micro credentials to provide the local economy with skills and access to additive and advanced manufacturing. For example, they have partnered with Skills Ontario to offer March Break programming for youth across Canada and the world, as well as eCampusOntario. The company is also providing services and access to their facility to Science North. Maker North will continue to work alongside Science North to leverage funding opportunities for upcoming government support for providing micro credentials for Northern Ontario students and businesses.

Looking ahead, they’re excited to work closely with business, government and educational partners to create an ecosystem of technology that is hyper-focused on solving local problems and meeting the needs of the local market. Says Bertrand, “This will allow our growth in the business and help provide access to those who don’t want to travel to get services like prototyping, laser cutting and 3D printing.”

For more information, visit Maker North or call (705) 450-6054.

Learn more about the programs and services provided by the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce.