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50 million N95 masks could now be manufactured in Richmond

Richmond entrepreneurs said the goal is to serve all Canadians

Fifty million N95 face masks could be made every year at a Richmond manufacturing company.

This is a result of a collaboration between Maple Leaf Laboratories and Layfield Group, a Richmond-based manufacturing, distribution and installation company.

"Our number one priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians, especially health-care and other frontline workers who have been working tirelessly to serve the whole community," said Guoren Zhang, an instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s School of Business and CEO of Maple Leaf Laboratories, a Canadian research and development and manufacturer based in Vancouver. 

Zhang told the Richmond News only two Canadian companies, Quebec-based Medicom and manufacturing giant 3M, have had the capacity and ability to produce N95 face masks and other respirators before they jumped into the mask-making industry.

The idea of launching the first ever N95 mask production line on Canada's west coast was triggered by a string of bad news in April, said Zhang. 

U.S President Donald Trump unveiled a new order in April halting respirator mask exports amid a dispute with 3M. Meanwhile, millions of face masks from other foreign countries failed to meet Canadian quality standards and couldn't be used by frontline workers. 

"I was determined that Canada should have its own protective equipment production line, so we don't have to rely heavily on overseas factories," said Zhang. 

Zhang launched the project, but he needed more resources and assistance. After sharing his vision with Matt Pitcairn, president and CEO of Richmond Chamber of Commerce, he was connected with Mark Rose, president of Layfield Group.

Since then, the two companies have been working around the clock to come up with a plan to produce N95 masks for Canadians, said Zhang, adding that they have imported mask production machines and materials from Asia. 

While everything seems to be going smoothly now, they faced several challenges along the way, such as a shortage of melt-blown fabric (polypropylene), material needed to keep bacteria from getting in contact with the face, explained Rose. 

Regardless of the challenges, Zhang and Rose are delighted to see Western Canada will have its own N95 mask manufacturing line. 

"We can protect people. It's a business, but it's more about social responsibility as a Canadian entrepreneur," said Zhang.

“As a reputable Canadian company, working with university professors and investors … adds a lot of credibility to the manufacturing requirements,” said Rose.