Editor’s note: Visit the official Western COVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.
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Earlier this month, Clayton Cook and his University Machine Services team constructed a much-need bracket for a local neurosurgeon – a devise to hold a patient’s head in place during lifesaving surgery.
Just another Thursday around the shop.
“It should be the shop’s motto, ‘Don’t tell us what we can’t do,’” said the Machine Services Manager. “This piece broke; it would be a month for them to get a new one and cost $16,000 to replace. So, we said, ‘We can make the part.’”
The broken piece was brought in and, thanks to “a little reverse geometry magic,” the part was designed, shaped, made, approved and back in the operating room quickly.
“We try and touch it all,” Cook said. “That is one of the things that keeps us stable and going strong. I don’t think many folks understand what we can do for them.”
Based out of the Thompson Engineering Building, University Machine Services is an ancillary service that provides services like lab-to-pilot scale laboratory equipment; computer numerical control machining; and 3D-modelling and printing (additive manufacturing) to Western faculty and staff, London Health Sciences Centre hospitals and other industry clients.
This week, the team garnered headlines by leading the way in creating low-cost, substantively effective medical face shields to arm health-care workers in the global fight against COVID-19. For a usually low-key, behind-the-scenes operation, it was a rare and much-deserved spotlight.
But this job was just the latest reflection of the creativity and drive found among the team.
“We work with everything and chase every type of material – steel, metals, plastic. Just because it’s always done this way doesn’t mean it has to,” Cook said. “Can we put different webbing through it? Can we lighten the part up? Will it keep it just as strong? We love the chase of the next technology.”
On campus, Machines Services can be found assisting teams in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Robarts Research Institute, Engineering, Science, Facilities Management, University Hospital, Housing.
Even Western President Alan Shepard recruited the team to create the Western pin he wears, said Cook, gesturing to a thank-you note hanging just outside his office door. “He sent us a thank-you – that stuff means a lot to us around here.”
The team also remains busy with external work coming from across the city and and around the country, much of it recruited through connections with alumni. “It’s like they’re coming back for Homecoming – but they’re coming to us to do jobs.”
With 15 full-time staffers, Cook looks forward to each day wondering only “what’s the challenge today or what’s coming tomorrow.”
He continued, “It’s one of the joys of working at Western. We have a great group of people. We all come through the same gates; we need to work together. We’re meeting for new projects every day and asking, ‘Can it be done?’ We answer, ‘Sure it can.’ It’s the challenges that keep the team going.
“We have a close-knit group and it’s never one person trying to solve a problem. You’re never hiring one person to do your job; you’re hiring University Machine Services – all of us.”