Recipient: Fidelity Machine & Mould Solutions
The Challenge: To fill a critical gap in the supply chain for medical masks.
Alberta Innovates Investment: Coaching and community from technology development advisors.
An Alberta manufacturer, Fidelity Machine & Mould Solutions, has undertaken an innovative new partnership with a health-care company, Orpyx Medical Technologies, to locally produce medical face masks for front-line health workers in Alberta. “This Calgary-based operation will fill a critical gap in the supply chain and shorten delivery times for facilities that are currently dependent on overseas suppliers,” said Jeff Litster, Fidelity’s president and general manager in a June 10 statement.
Since June, Fidelity has mobilized quickly to create new manufacturing capacity. Importing custom mask-making machinery from China, the Calgary company has relied on its machinists and technicians to rewire and upgrade equipment to set up a brand-new business, Fidelity Medical Manufacturing.
It’s not Fidelity’s first experience in the medical manufacturing field. But it’s by far the most significant move to date and remains completely in character for the company, given its history of constant adaptation to meet market needs.
Early focus on complex projects
Two decades ago, Litster, an Ontario college grad with an automotive mould-making background, came west, attracted by the mountains and hoping to start up a new manufacturing business in Calgary.
In 2007, he co-founded Fidelity in the city’s southeast industrial district with partners Ryan Arseneau, Joe Brunelle and Corey Homick. Initially focused on injection mould-making, the company added machining equipment to begin turning out custom parts for the province’s oilfield services sector.
At the same time, Litster spread the word among business contacts that Fidelity was open to taking on complex projects, large or small, that other shops didn’t want to tackle. This brought in diverse projects for the new company in the energy and aerospace sectors, to name a few, as well as international customers.
“We found a lot of need for the services we were providing. It wasn’t hard to find work,” Litster says.
Alberta Innovates: connecting the province’s innovation community
Their reputation as an enterprising shop caught the attention of Michael Kerr, a senior Technology Development Advisor at Alberta Innovates.
Starting in 2008, Kerr began recommending Fidelity as a supplier to his clients. “Early on, Michael did a tour of our shop, and we started working more with him — just lots of client referrals.
When Michael would get a new client with a manufacturing challenge, he’d say, ‘you have to go and talk to these guys at Fidelity,’ ” Litster says.
Soon, Litster and his team found themselves providing a wide range of services, everything from design, testing, prototyping as well as providing production advice to Alberta Innovates clients. “One of the unique things is that we have never been a direct recipient of Alberta Innovates funding support, but we’ve been a part of a lot of projects through their customers,” Litster says.
Kerr adds: “Investing in Alberta startups by providing access to coaching, community and capital is central to the work we do as technology development advisors. With the exemplary work Jeff and the team at Fidelity do, it was easy to help them make connections in Alberta’s innovation community.”
New business and next steps
Through these contacts, Litster has continued to build relationships in the local business community, including with Orpyx, a long-time Alberta Innovates client.
Earlier this year, after Fidelity and Orpyx participated in an initiative to collect personal protective equipment (PPE) for Calgary health-care facilities, Litster and Dr. Breanne Everett, Orpyx’s president and CEO, sensed the timing was right for a new collaboration.
The partnership would draw on the two companies’ expertise in the medical and manufacturing sectors to address the ongoing need for PPE as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Under a $60-million, two-year agreement between Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Orpyx, Fidelity is currently producing 4.5 million certified medical masks a month, with plans to reach eight million a month by January.
In the process, Fidelity’s overall staff count has doubled from 45 to 90 in rapid time, and more workers are being added almost weekly. “We’re definitely not letting our foot off the gas on any front,” says Litster, who next hopes to increase Fidelity’s business in the aerospace and defence sectors.
Beyond work, Litster keeps busy, serving on several industry groups or sharing his passion for business with local university students.
Says Kerr, it’s an example to others, as Alberta entrepreneurs work through a challenging business environment.
“Jeff has levered his connections and now Fidelity is making 4.5 million masks a month. Fidelity is diversified and doing even better — even in the current downturn.”