We believe that the greatest challenges can lead to great innovations. The pandemic is forcing businesses to re-evaluate and realign with the current reality. While some are taking advantage of government support to stay afloat, others are experiencing greater demand and stressed supply chains. No matter what actions are being taken, it is a trying time for all of us.
All the while, it has been incredible to watch and see how local businesses have adapted and introduced some good into the world. They are making positive waves throughout our community and we couldn’t be more proud.
Peter O’Brien is the founder of VO2 Master, a Vernon-based organization that produces portable metabolic analyzers used in the performance assessment of athletes. The devices analyze an individual’s VO2 max, determining performance and training improvement. The metabolic analyzers can also be used for nutritional assessment, telling you how many calories you need to accurately maintain or lose weight.
We recently spoke with Peter to see how VO2 Master has reacted and adapted to COVID-19.
How has your business shifted to aid Canada during this pandemic?
In the office, we’re making airway components already for the metabolic analyzers, creating our own respirators for people in need was a natural progression. We already had the masks and filter disks, all that was missing was the packaging. So we 3D printed an assembly to get it all together. Because of the regulatory challenges, we’re not able to sell to the medical field, but there are quite a few compromised, elderly or at-risk people that should be wearing a mask while they go about their average day.
What made you decide to take this step?
It seemed like something that other people may need. We’ve been hearing people making masks out of cotton, which is crazy. The air filtration rate is like 60%, which is not enough. But no one can get surgical or N95 masks anymore, or at least it’s really hard to. Filter materials have become the new gold and material that can filter small particulates is something we have boxes of. So we thought we should build our own respirators. It seemed like a good thing to do.
Have sales for the respirator become the main focus for VO2 Master?
Our metabolic analyzers are still selling. They’re great for COVID-19 research. As people progress through a respiratory disease, they could be getting pulmonary fibrosis or other kinds of complications. We don’t know much about the disease yet, so one of the most important things to measure is lung function—specifically, the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the blood. If the alveoli are damaged, you can still move and ventilate air but you might not get a lot of gas exchange. Our analyzers can detect that. We’re trying to help on both fronts.
What are your goals for the respirator mask?
I think this mask will be a permanent fixture in our product line going forward. It could be something worthwhile during the summer months—especially when you have a bad smoke season. I know I’ll be wearing mine when I’m out on my bike in August; I don’t want all that smoke in me. I think there is long-term utility. Existing customers already have the blue masks and filters, so they can just buy the adapter from us. Then they’ll have both the metabolic analyzer and the air filter.
What has been the response from the community?
We got more website traffic in the first 3 days of April than we did all of March. We got on a few news outlets, Castanet, Morning Star and Global News and from that, we’ve had more than enough interest.
What advice would you share with other companies thinking about supporting the efforts against COVID-19?
In the last week, Canada has upped its initiative to have Canadian-made PPE suppliers, now is a great time to make a difference. If you don’t have the experience in what Canada needs, it might not be the right time to jump in and help. But if you have the experience and you’re a good fit, it just makes sense.
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