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Bombardier begins ventilator production at Thunder Bay

Assembly line will provide work for as many as 60 over the next three to four months

Bombardier Canada announced May 29 that its Thunder Bay transit coach assembly plant is in full production manufacturing portable ventilators.

In teaming up with O2 Medical Technologies of Brampton, Bombardier has established an assembly line at the plant for 50 to 60 active and laid-off workers in producing e700 ventilators for the next three to four months.

Bombardier is filling the role of "sub manufacturer" to O2 Medical Technologies who are selling the ventilators to the Ontario government. Production numbers will be provided on an ongoing basis.

First announced in April, this temporary work is good news for the northwestern Ontario rail passenger coach assembly plant where Bombardier has been forced to lay off workers due to the lack of urban transit contracts. About 470 workers remain on site from 1,100 a year and a half ago. 

There was a delay in establishing the assembly line since O2 Medical Technologies had its supply chain disrupted by COVID-19.

A "clean room" has been set up where an eight-station production line is running.

The company spent the last two weeks manufacturing different components required for the ventilator casing that needed to be pre-approved before production could begin.

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The scope of the work involves finishing of the housing components, including sanding and prep for paint, electrical resistance testing of the paint, assembly of working components, quality assurance inspection, and packaging and shipping to O2 who will do a final assembly and test the completed unit.

Bombardier recalled about 45 laid-off workers for the job. The rest are active employees at the plant.

In a statement, Bombardier extended thanks to Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Dr. Marcus Powlowski who connected the plant's general manager, Dave Black, with O2's Helton Santos, vice-president of sales and marketing.

Powlowski called it a "great day for the Thunder Bay plant," in a Bombardier news release.

"These are some of the first ventilators that have been ordered in Canada in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to be built. This is a testament to the skill and talent of the plant’s workers and shows all of Canada the importance of keeping the plant operational.”

Black said his workforce is proud to be able to produce these medical devices in the fight against the pandemic.

"Over the years, this site has produced various products from mine sweepers in World War One and Hawker Hurricanes in World War Two to busses and various rail transportation products. These ventilators may be the smallest product we have ever produced but equally as important."

Dom Pasqualino, President of Unifor Local 1075, said the workforce adapted quickly to "manufacture the smallest product the plant has ever produced in its 100-year history. Our team is dedicated to doing everything possible to support the hardworking frontline healthcare workers. “

The ventilator production line startup falls on the heels of more good news earlier this week that Bombardier Thunder Bay will be assembling 28 Bi-Level commuter coaches after a US$108-million contract was signed with the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority in Seattle.

Delivery of the cars begins in the fourth quarter of 2021.