Masks produced by Langley’s Packright Manufacturing Ltd. are assembled in an idled Port Coquitlam dance studio. (Packright Manufacturing/special to Langley Advance Times)

How a Langley company went from making plastic food containers to medical grade face shields in less than a week

Packright CEO Colin Chiu called it an ‘aggressive’ change

Langley manufacturer Packright has come up with a creative solution to a shortage of elastic for the protective face shields worn by medical staff.

Their design uses rubber bands as a substitute, attached in a way that ensures they won’t break or snap.

Packright Manufacturing Ltd. CEO Colin Chiu told the Langley Advance Times the wait to get medical-grade elastic is currently running about 16 weeks, the result of massive buys by different purchasers on international markets.

“We can’t get elastics right now” Chiu summarized.

“We designed within materials that we have.”

Using readily available items like heavy-duty rubber bands also helps keep the expense to purchasers down, Chiu added.

“We’re trying to do it as low-cost as possible.”

READ ALSO: Langley man creates ‘Hero hooks’ for real life heroes battling COVID-19

Until the COVID-19 crisis, Packright specialized in plastic containers for vegetables, bakery items, candies and snacks.

It had a proven ability to quickly produce custom designs to client specifications, something that turned out to be a handy trait.

Packright was able made a quick switch to making the much-needed face shields, developing a design with input from St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, then obtaining a federal “medical device establishment licence.”

Chiu estimates the process, from final design approval to the first lot of masks, took no more than five days, running off about 10,000 in the first week.

He described it as an “aggressive change.”

Assembly was moved to the shuttered Pulse Dance Centre studio in Port Coquitlam, which donated the needed space for volunteers to put the masks together.

By the end of this week, Chiu estimated the plant will have produced 50,000 masks.

“We can make one every three to four seconds,” Chiu said with pride.

As word gets out about the Packright design, Chiu has seen demand for the masks “growing and growing” with orders coming from medical clinics, doctors in private practice and even dental clinics, some as far away as Nelson and Kelowna.

“We’re just trying to do what we can,” Chiu said.

RELATED: Fraser Valley auto sound business starts producing face shields

There is intense competition for personal protection products products on international markets, with pandemic hot spots like New York City ordering 1.5 million face shields over the next three months.

Ottawa is ordering up to 30,000 ventilators from several Canadian companies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week (April 7).

Those ventilators come after the country asked domestic companies to switch over to manufacturing medical supplies, with a promise that the government will purchase them. Trudeau said nearly 5,000 companies have reached out to help with making medical gowns, masks and gloves.

The prime minister said the new ventilators will be ready “in the coming weeks” but nobody was more specific about when.

In late March, it was estimated that Canada had around 5,000 ventilators already across the country.

At a later press conference, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said 16 million of the surgical masks the federal government ordered have already been delivered, and more were on the way.

Federal officials have said more than 230 million surgical masks and 75 million N95 respirator masks are on order but cautioned the global supply chain is so fragile they cannot guarantee how many of those will actually arrive.

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It took Langley manufacturer Packright less than a week to go from a completed design to production of protective face shields for medical staff during the COVID-19 outbreak (special to Langley Advance Times)

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