By Ian Adams
A manufacturer has launched an innovative, reusable mask that will cut down on medical waste — with its North American production facilities centred in Collingwood.
Trebor Rx should start production in mid-November. Chief executive officer George Irwin estimated the company will employ between 80 and 100 people and manufacture about 725,000 masks a day.
Irwin and his spouse, Brenda Elliott, who is also president of the company, were infected with COVID-19 early in the pandemic. Their symptoms were mild, but it inspired them to respond to the urgent need for personal protective equipment.
Irwin, who is also the CEO of Irwin Toy, started manufacturing three-ply surgical masks through a company in China that also built his company’s toys. However, he saw the need to bring that manufacturing to Canada in order to have a reliable supply chain.
At the same time, Elliott’s son Bryan was chatting with her nephew, and they both realized they were in the mask business.
Elliott’s nephew, who owns a medical manufacturing firm in South Africa, had designed the Pro Plus, a reusable molded plastic dual respirator that uses filters.
They’ve now gone into a joint partnership.
Trebor (Robert spelled backwards) is named in honour of Elliott’s son, who died about a decade ago. He would have been 40 in mid-October.
“He was one of the most caring kids I ever knew,” Irwin said. “This is really a tribute to him.”
The Pro Plus mask is good for 300 hours of use, or 30 days, and can be easily sanitized with wipes, soap and water, an autoclave, steam, or UV light.
The masks are molded at another manufacturer in Ontario, with the pieces assembled, packed, and shipped from Trebor.
The filter is currently the same material as the three-ply mask. However, the company is changing over to filters made from a nano-material.
The three-ply masks would be entirely manufactured in Collingwood.
The company has launched a line of kids’ masks, Makin’ Faces, that come in a variety of prints with a set of washable markers so children can personalize them.
The company has leased 25,000 sq. ft. at the corner of Raglan and Ron Emo Road. Eventually, there will be four machines manufacturing the three-ply mask, and two to assemble the Pro Plus.
Irwin estimated the business represents a $3.5-million investment.
Once the company is up and running at full speed, it should be manufacturing 650,000 three-ply, and close to 75,000 Pro-Plus masks, a day
They plan to set up manufacturing in countries where they expect to see ample volume. They’re targeting the U.S. next.
“Our focus (with both masks) is to make sure that front-line health workers in Ontario and Canada are supplied first before anything gets exported out of the country,” Elliott said.
The Pro-Plus mask has a per-unit price to hospitals of $6.90; the filters cost approximately 15 cents. Irwin estimated on a monthly basis, a single Pro-Plus mask would cost a hospital $14.50 per employ.
In comparison, an N95 has a per unit cost between $5 and $7, and is only good for one patient or surgical procedure.
“The more we got into it, the more Brenda and I realized we had to do this. We believe that when we get up and manufacturing our three-ply masks, that we will be supplying masks at pre-COVID prices, and I think that’s a huge accomplishment,” Irwin said. “We’ve always operated (with the) goal to deliver a quality product at a price everyone can afford. We’ve always been one of the low-price suppliers since we started, with a top-quality mask, and we’ll continue to do that.”
On a monthly basis, Irwin estimated a hospital could see $2,000 or $3,000 in savings per employee.
The company also has a recycling program for the masks, which would provide hospitals a modest income to return them
“This would be the first recyclable mask, and a revenue stream for the hospital after its use, and it reduces medical waste,” Irwin said. “This ticks off every box you can think of.”
The masks are molded to create an air-tight seal to the face, are hypoallergenic, and come in four sizes.
There’s also a child-sized version that can be modified to make it more fun and less fearful for kids.
Because the mask is see-through, it makes it less invasive for the patient, as they can now see the employee’s face.
The company can also produce the mask in a variety of colours, which would allow hospitals to designate colours for different areas of a facility.
Prior to the pandemic, Ontario was going through 9.5 million masks a day; extrapolated out across the country, over the course of a year, more than six billion masks are used.
“Even when all of this goes away and we’re not wearing masks the way we used to, there’s still a market in Canada — and in the U.S. it’s 10 times that,” Irwin said. “As a Canadian or North American manufacturer, if we get half of one per cent of that number, we’re 300 million masks a year — I’m OK with that.
“If we can be a good, solid, quality manufacturer at a reasonable price, we’ll have enough orders to fill what we need to have a very viable business for as long as we want.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Given the pandemic’s effect on employment, Simcoe.com jumped at the chance to profile a manufacturer that could bring up to 100 jobs to Collingwood.