COVID-fighting mask maker faces new foe: unexpected demand
EDMONTON -- They created a cloth that filters the COVID-19 virus to N95 standards, but what an Edmonton-based think tank didn’t foresee was the difficulty in keeping up with orders.
ACAMP Is a not-for-profit development centre partnered with industry and post-secondary institutions like the University of Alberta.
CTV Edmonton profiled ACAMP's multi-layered cloth filter and the mask system it called an A95 back in April. The product was meant to be immediately available to the public — but then the orders started coming in.
“It was crazy. Within the first 24 hours [CTV News Edmonton] brought down our computer systems for taking orders,” said ACAMP CEO Ken Brizel.
The organization hasn't been able to catch up since. Brizel says it ran into difficulties that included a labour-intensive process for building the flexible mask components. ACAMP said it also didn't expect as many customers or orders it's now struggling to fill. It believed there would be demand for hundreds of masks. Instead, it's thousands.
“Our backlog is growing, not declining, because of the orders that we’re getting. And right now it stands at about 6,000," Brizel said.
CTV News Edmonton was given a tour of the busy mask-making facility that Brizel says has added two-thirds more production staff.
Still, he admits they have only filled a fraction of the orders, leading to online complaints about the wait time for the product and the design itself. ACAMP stopped production to revamp the breathability of the mask and still haven't caught up.
"You'd think they would've at least nailed down the design before taking orders. Stopping production to go back to the drawing board is not a good sign," wrote one user on Reddit.
Another person wrote: "First, we got an email they were changing their moulds, then one that they're not going to be able to make them in the colours advertised. Still no word on shipping, so I emailed yesterday asking for my money back."
Brizel said the company has had problems in part because of initially offering masks in different colours.
ACAMP has since done away with those, and is now developing better-fitting models with more ventilation. Then there’s the moulding process of the polyurethane portions.
“The casting requires labourious amount(s) of effort to basically mix materials of polyurethane and then cast, and then you wait 10 hours and then it’s shipped," Brizel said.
But he believes he's found a solution in an injection-moulding company that is sending thousands of ready-made components from Ontario.
The CEO says with the prebuilt component solution, all back orders could be to customers within two to three weeks.
“We can start taking that backlog down on a weekly basis, the intent would be now to start simply taking thousands of masks of this type that we can ship out to customers,” Brizel said.
ACAMP says it has also changed couriers because of complaints about handling and delivery fees. Brizel also said customers who have no longer been able to wait have been given refunds.