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Are 3-D printed masks a viable way to combat the N-95 shortage?

Posted at 8:42 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 23:40:42-04

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FAIRFIELD, Ohio - Hospitals everywhere, including those in the Tri-State, are facing a shortage of personal protection equipment (PPE), especially N-95 masks.

With a slowdown in business due to the coronavirus, the owner of 3-D Cincy printing shop in Fairfield is using the free time and the tools of his trade to create an innovative alternative to help protect healthcare workers.

“It gave me an opportunity to think, what could I do with my machinery that could help,” 3-D Cincy founder Mark Hollon said. “It would just be a shame for them to be sitting here 24/7, just sitting idle.”

Two weeks ago, Hollon started printing face masks. In the beginning, he could make three to four a day, but now that he’s got the process down, he’s upped the output to 20 masks a day.

“These are all 3-D printed,” Hollon said. “And the idea is to be able to reuse them with a reusable filter cartridge. And once that part is removed, then these parts can be sanitized and reused.”

Hollon printed close to 120 masks currently, and he’s given almost 50 away to local nurses. He said several healthcare groups contacted him about producing the masks.

“I’ve had two groups now who’ve taken 25 to 30,” Hollon said. “They’re taking them back to their management and evaluating what they would have to do to make these usable if it comes down to that.”

Hollon’s masks can’t replace the N-95 masks, but he said they may come in handy should the shortage of masks become more critical.

“I’m just trying to build a reserve, because I have a feeling, unfortunately, it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Hollon said. “The filter material that can be put in them can filter out the equivalent of N95 or can be higher than N95, which would block more than 95% of particulates of a particular size. But in no way are they replacements.”

Hollon has a personal stake in the protection of health care employees – his wife is a pediatric nurse.

“To all the nurses, doctors, and the medical staff first responders out there, thank you, because you are the frontline of this crisis and the importance of keeping you protected is the most valuable thing we have,” Hollon said.

While he 3D prints the masks at 3-D Cincy, Hollon doesn’t make straps or filters. He said he’s hoping to collaborate with other groups or organizations to produce the entire mask to be delivered to health care workers.