From Brakes to Ventilators

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Rick Jamieson, CEO ABS Friction, IDEAL Brakes Photo: Jason Janssen, ABS

Rick Jamieson of ABS Friction shares his thoughts on helping healthcare providers to combat COVID-19 and the need to support local and national businesses.

Being picked by the Government to build ventilators for Canadians was a real feather in Rick Jamieson’s hat, CEO of IDEAL Brakes and ABS, Guelph, Ontario. Starting to assemble them inside of four months was a significant achievement as the product normally takes up to two years to develop.

Autosphere contacted Rick to talk about why he started producing ventilators… a far cry from brake pads! He founded ABS Friction about 25 years ago and as a private label manufacturer, supplies tens of millions of sets worldwide. Here’s what he said.

AS: When did the idea of producing ventilators at ABS friction first come about?

RJ: When the COVID-19 pandemic happened in March, the Canadian government asked some Canadian companies to help. I coined the term ‘Ventilators for Canadians’ and started a website to articulate that vision. The goal was to either buy or assemble ventilators, which in the pandemic’s early stages, were the most needed medical devices.

AS: What business aspect made it a logical concept to shift from brake pads to ventilator production?

RJ: It’s not a logical step. However, at ABS, we’re familiar with making new products that are safety devices. My goal was to find a ventilator to license for manufacture in Canada. We’re now making the Baylis V4C-560 model ventilator, based on the Medtronic PB-560 ventilator platform.

AS: What pieces were needed to make ventilation production feasible from an equipment/staffing perspective?

1. A proven ventilator design—we got an open-source licence from Medtronic when they offered it to some manufacturers to allow them to produce this product.

2. We needed a medical-grade facility—we partnered with and subcontracted to Baylis Medical in Toronto.
3. We needed a supply chain to support the manufacturing—we developed critical suppliers for Baylis.
4. We needed an order—Canada ordered 10,000 ventilators.
5. We needed Health Canada approval—we got that mid-June!

AS: How have things progressed since April?

RJ: We’ve been working non-stop seven days a week for over five months. We’re now shipping ventilators to the government’s Ottawa national stockpile.

AS: What do you think this experience plus the pandemic has taught us about conducting business and how we think about the world around us?

RJ: We need to manufacture more in Canada. There’s a huge capability in engineering here—it’s a myth that we can’t compete effectively. We need to do a much better job of planning and understand the risks of globalization on supply chains.

AS: How do you see things continuing through September, maybe into 2012 – from a business perspective and ventilators needed?

RJ: In the brake business, our customers have experienced record sales in June, July and August. Our IDEAL line—only sold in Canada—is shipping at a 99.9% fill rate because we never shut down manufacturing—being an “essential service” allowed us to build inventory. We assumed sales would come back stronger than ever; that’s happened. We assume no one will travel to the southern U.S. this Fall and likely invest in repairing their cars. Therefore, I believe there will be excellent sales through the end of the year.

AS: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

RJ: Premier Doug Ford said Ontarians need to support Canadian companies. Canadian buyers and distributors should support companies like us. Companies like ours create jobs in Canada and “Buying Canadian” makes a difference. Local manufacturing supports local charities, suppliers, and families. If we weren’t here, we wouldn’t have had the infrastructure to be able to step up and make ventilators for Canadians.

On a final note, Jamieson says expects to fulfill their 10,000 ventilators contract by mid-December—they’ve already started a fourth shift in view of the case spikes in COVID 19 we are already witnessing this fall.



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