This time of year, staff at Cline Library’s MakerLab, Northern Arizona University’s large-scale 3-D printing environment, would normally be gearing up for the end-of-the-semester rush. Instead, they have dedicated resources to addressing a national shortage—medical masks.
To assist Coconino County health care workers on the front line of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the MakerLab partnered with Guardian Air, a division of Northern Arizona Healthcare, to 3-D-print personal protective masks for medical professionals in the Flagstaff area that would otherwise be without.
“One of the primary missions of the MakerLab is to foster innovation and help our users—students, staff and the community—find unique design solutions to real-world problems. The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the largest real-world problem our community has yet to face, and naturally we want to do everything we can to help NAU and northern Arizona overcome it,” said assistant librarian Chris Holthe. “We particularly saw the shortage of medical PPE masks as a problem that required an innovative solution, one that could benefit from both our equipment and our technical expertise.”
Doctors from the Billings Clinic in Montana created the computer model to print these masks, which are designed for use with a fabric medical mask or filter insert. Made from a plastic material called PLA, the mask design is sturdy, non-toxic, cleanable and most importantly, reusable.
At two inches by two inches, the permeable area of the 3-D version is much smaller than traditional medical masks, meaning less filter material is required, which Holthe said is crucial in times when supplies are dwindling.
The MakerLab began printing masks at cost last week, and the printers have been running non-stop since. In four days, NAU finished 100 masks for the medical workers at Guardian Air.
“Any part NAU can play in supporting the community we live in is important. As the Cline Library MakerLab is a community resource, it makes sense to use it in support of critical community needs,” Holthe said. “We are all in this together, and by supporting one group and potentially others, our reach is that much greater and we can have a positive impact in the community at a crucial time.”
“This pandemic has brought to light what individuals can do to make a difference and how the university and community are intrinsically linked, sharing not only expertise, but also bringing creativity and innovative ideas to the local level,” dean and university librarian Cynthia Childrey said.
The 3-D printed mask is not intended to replace standard protective equipment, such as N-95 masks or surgical masks. Use of the 3-D mask has not been fully tested and has not been approved by federal or state authorities. NAU makes no representations or guarantees regarding the safety, efficacy or appropriate use of this product in any situation.
Carly Banks | NAU Communications
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