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COVID-19 Skunkworks: Enginuity Leads Response to Nova Scotia PPE Crisis

2021 update: COVID Crisis Jumpstarts Action

Video courtesy of ACOA 

We love solving problems. Having an opportunity to say all limits are off the table. We have a problem, we want to solve it. What are the ways we can solve this problem?” – Ben Garvey, President, Enginuity Inc.

Gail Tomblin Murphy, VP, Research and Innovation, Nova Scotia Health: “During this time, I was proud that regardless of how tense it got, regardless of how urgent things felt, the concept of partnership remained strong.

Halifax-based engineering design company Enginuity is leading the charge in developing and deploying rapid and responsive solutions to the COVID-19 healthcare challenges.

Enginuity was asked by ACOA Nova Scotia to coordinate a provincial consortium that includes the Nova Scotia Health AuthorityIWK Health CentreACOADalhousie UniversityNova Scotia Business Inc.BioNova, and IgniteLabs.

“We’ve pivoted some of our multi-disciplinary team of engineers, designers, technologists, researchers, and strategists to respond to the challenge of COVID-19, providing local manufacturing solutions to global supply chain issues,” says CEO Ben Garvey. “We are so proud to be part of this group of health, academic, technology, and business leaders.”

Alastair ‘Alf’ Trower is director of business development for Enginuity and chairs the group, which holds a daily standing phone call to assess needs, brainstorm solutions, map out next steps, fast track approvals, and figure out how to leverage the companies, materials, and people in Atlantic Canada’s supply chain.

“Every day, we ask: What is the need from the NSHA and the IWK?” explains Trower. “We work to understand that need, triage that need, then turn around to universities and industry and figure out how we can respond. We’ve worked on masks, gowns, and other PPE. We’ve assessed ideas from industry, responded to calls from other agencies, and looked at different ways to solve problems. We’ve also looked in detail at several emergency ventilator designs.”


The Enginuity team itself has designed a hooded gown, a reusable gown, and a specialized protective hood, and is now establishing a local manufacturing route to provide secure, local access to critical equipment.

The consortium has also coordinated the building of a database of Atlantic Canadian manufacturers and what their capabilities are in terms of providing ideas, components, materials, and services.


Dalhousie University is playing a critical role by supporting the necessary R&D to rapidly move the development of locally made solutions and innovations forward. Headquartered in Dal’s Faculty of Engineering, the Emera ideaHUB is directing efforts across Dalhousie faculties and with academic institutions across Atlantic Canada. Interdisciplinary research teams are validating alternative materials, conducting essential rapid testing to regulatory standards, improving processes, developing innovative solutions that can be integrated with Atlantic manufacturers, and collecting data to inform critical decision-making.


BioNova has taken the lead on regulatory compliance, working with Health Canada to fast-track approval of solutions brought forward by the group. “Being part of an industry-led response just makes sense,” says Executive Director Scott Moffit. “We are here to offer our industry expertise and guide local manufacturers through Health Canada’s process of regulatory approval. The health and life sciences sector deals with these issues on a regular basis, so we’re stepping forward so they can stay focussed on supporting front line healthcare workers, patients, and the public. Our national relationships have allowed us to bring information and supplies to Nova Scotia and provided a portal for local manufacturers to access the needs of Canada.”

Yarmouth’s IgniteLabs has been leading industry and community response, ensuring rural community healthcare is also well served. CEO Doug Jones says, “Industry and production capabilities are vital for the province right now and for the future. The ability to keep workers safe on the job during this time is incredibly important. Being part of this action-oriented group of innovators with Enginuity has been an incredible response mechanism to the needs of industries and communities throughout Nova Scotia.”

The group has taken to calling itself the COVID-19 Skunkworks (#C19SkunkWorks). “Skunkworks” is an informal term originally coined during the Second World War. It refers to a project developed by a small and loosely structured group researching and developing radically innovative solutions. The mandate is to fill the gap where the normal supply chain fails. “We’ve built the minimal amount of process to move quickly and respond to need,” says Trower.

“Being part of this solution has meant a lot of long days, an awful lot of conference calls, and loads of creative thinking,” adds Garvey. “We’ve talked with ER doctors, nurses, intubation specialists, and respiratory therapists and engaged with NSHA/IWK procurement. As businesses, we’ll do whatever we can to help.”

Trower highlights the call for innovation. “Many new products will be spawned in our region’s life sciences sector over the next year or two as a result of this turn of events. The level of creativity, innovation, and collaboration between business, academia and government is inspiring.”

Project Partners and Assistance

Face masks: NeoCon, Dalhousie University HERC Lab, Ignite Labs, Lisa Drader-Murphy, Lulujo, Halifax Biomedical, Cape Easy Consulting, ACE Machining
Ventilators: Protocase, 45Drives, NovaResp
Intubation shields: Dalhousie, Spring Loaded Technologies, Ring Rescue
Face shields: BBI Plastics, DayNite Signs, Spring Loaded Technologies, Ring Rescue, Nautel, Dormie Workshop, ACE Machining
Gowns: Heritage Textiles, Cirrus Garment, Stanfields, Wearwell Garments, Sevaen Workwear, Don Schelew Dry Cleaners
Hand sanitizer: Authentic Seacoast, Xerox, Acadian Seaplants, Still Fired Distillery, Reito, Nova Scotia Spirit Company, Upstreet Brewing, Cape Breton Beverages, Solid State Pharma, BioVectra
Inspection booths: Beaumont and Co., JD Composites
Protection shields: Proax Technologies, Polymershapes

Additional help is being provided by NSCC, NSCAD, Acadia University, Memorial University, SpringBoard Atlantic, and the New Brunswick Business Council.

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