Necessity proved to be the mother of invention when a supply-chain shortage of small, disposable, plastic forceps threatened a busy virology lab’s ability to do COVID-19 tests.
The Hamilton Regional Laboratory Medicine Program (HRLMP) virology lab is s responsible for conducting clinical COVID testing from hospitals and assessment centres in Hamilton, across Ontario and even from outside the province.
As part of COVID testing, the swab taken from a person’s nasal cavity is stored in a capped test tube and sent to the lab for processing. The forceps, that work like tweezers, were critical to the testing process, since medical laboratory staff used them to remove the nasal swab from the tube.
Last fall, when the lab feared running out of forceps due to a global supply-chain shortage, lab staff together with the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) and Coreprint Patterns, a precision mold-making and injection-molding firm in Hamilton, leapt into action to create an even better tool called a grasper.
As well as side-stepping delays, this new grasping tool allowed the lab to keep pace with the recent surge in testing caused by Omicron.
Flagging supply-chain concerns
Last September, HRLMP’s administrative support staff person Stephanie Reid tried ordering a new supply of the usual forceps from a national distributor, only to be told they were on back order until mid-December.
This led to HRLMP connecting with MMRI and Coreprint to work on a solution.
As part of this collaboration, Coreprint went beyond addressing the supply chain issue by creating the grasper — a new and improved product that overcomes the challenges of traditional forceps identified by the HRLMP team. Coreprint was able to go from concept to delivering the graspers in just weeks.
“This new product is locally made, more environmentally friendly, and makes testing faster and less physically taxing,” says Mackensey Bacon, HRLMP’s laboratory research coordinator.
Keeping pace with demand
The lab has been especially busy over the last few weeks due to Omicron — processing an average of about 3,400 COVID nasal swabs per day. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the lab has processed over 915,000 tests. Over 85 per cent of specimens require graspers to process swabs.
HRLMP ordered 150,000 units of graspers, which will last about three months. This should give Coreprint enough time to obtain more polypropylene which has been in short supply. in stock.