Facing threat of shortages, MUSC researchers release plans for 3D-printed masks

"High schools have a printer capable of making this"

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MUSC researchers have been developing prototypes of for new masks using a HEPA filter and 3D printed material - MUSC
  • MUSC
  • MUSC researchers have been developing prototypes of for new masks using a HEPA filter and 3D printed material
Common technology for hobbyists and laboratories could be deployed to help doctors and nurses remain protected as they treat COVID-19 patients.

With reports of shortages of vital masks, gowns, and other equipment designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to the medical professionals and loved ones attending to them, MUSC researchers have released plans that would allow 3D printers to help manufacture air filtration masks.

Inspired by the ingenuity of American astronauts aboard the 1970 Apollo 13 mission who devised a makeshift air filter out of common items, Joshua Kim set to work.



"How can we utilize materials that people can get at a local hardware store and repurpose those materials to make protective equipment?" asked Kim, according to a MUSC news release. Kim is a senior designer and program coordinator in the hospital's Department of Surgery Human Centered Design Program.

Using a store-bought HEPA filter, Kim and his team created a few prototypes that accomplished the goal of filtering airborne contaminants and providing a comfortable seal around the wearer's face. If air were able to enter around the mask's edges, it would be worthless.
Yost (left) and Kim demonstrate mask prototypes - MUSC
  • MUSC
  • Yost (left) and Kim demonstrate mask prototypes
The result is the team's new Self-Assembly Filter for Emergencies, or SAFE, Cartridge System. Plans for the mask assembly have been made available online — "Use at your own risk," the website says.

Small 3D printers are relatively common among the maker community for small custom-made items, but are also used for dental lab work, MUSC says.

Elements of the mask, such as the filter module itself and an exhale valve, are designed to work with other standard medical equipment, eliminating some of the need to manufacture entire masks if facilities have access to other materials that could be repurposed.

"High schools have a printer capable of making this," said Michael Yost, vice chairman of research in the Department of Surgery. "Let's make this so simple that a high schooler could do it, yet effective to protect our people."

Researchers are still testing prototypes on various face shapes and sizes, but are also talking with industrial manufacturers who could produce the gear quickly. Consumer-level 3D printers could take hours to make the components of one mask.

Elements of the SAFE mask could be added to masks commonly used for other purposes - MUSC
  • MUSC
  • Elements of the SAFE mask could be added to masks commonly used for other purposes

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