A senior design engineer from GE Additive has come up with a remarkably low-cost and simple 3D printed face mask that has already been adopted across the U.S. Navy to protect its troops and personnel across the world. The mask consists of a 3D printed frame, which is fitted with a piece of filter material, such as cloth, and elastics.
In his day job at GE Additive, Mark Fuller designs parts for aircraft, rockets and race cars. At home, his passion for 3D printing endures, as Fuller has come up with a number of hobbyist-grade 3D printing designs, including a fidget spinner with over two million downloads. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fuller set out to design a DIY face mask that was easy to print, versatile and low cost.
Looking at the wide range of masks being developed, Fuller ultimately decided to go for an ultra-simplified approach, basing his design on the physical outline of other face mask models. The result of this was a thin ring made of plastic with small cleats to attach string or rubber bands to hold the mask in place. The ring, which fits around the wearer’s nose and mouth, can be fitted with any fabric to act as a filter.
A key element to his design is that not only can it be easily 3D printed, but it can also be produced using more conventional processes. “I designed it in a way that you can take the same core geometry and go and injection mold them or go and laser cut them,” he explained. “What machines are not being utilized for production today can be used to help save lives.”
The first prototype of his 3D printed mask did undergo some changes, following feedback from a Facebook group dedicated to open-source medical equipment for COVID-19, including making the nose area thinner and using more flexible plastic. With the updated design, Fuller continued to print the masks at home, and ramped up production through the GE Additive COVID-19 Task Force to be deployed to local hospitals.
The 3D printed mask takes about 15 minutes to print and uses about $0.09 worth of plastic. The mask is also versatile, as any type of filter material can be used, including air conditioner filters, any fabric on hand or even paper towel in a pinch. This flexibility and potential for rapid deployment made the mask an interesting solution for the U.S. Navy, which was seeking ways to keep its sailors healthy in the confined spaces of warships.
GE had already been working with the U.S. Navy to deploy 3D printed face shield hard hats, but the military branch also needed masks to deploy around the world. Not wanting to take N95 mask stocks away from medical workers, the Navy was reportedly enthusiastic to see Fuller’s design. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also approved the design for community use to protect against the coronavirus, which helped to spur the Navy’s interest.
“The GE face mask design gives us a way to immediately provide protective gear to our sailors and Marines anywhere there is 3D printer available—including aboard our ships and submarines, as well as with our expeditionary forces,” said Liz McMichael, Additive Manufacturing Integrated Program Team Lead for the U.S. Navy. “It was fantastic to have a design that afforded us the opportunity to rapidly respond to this urgent fleet need.”
The U.S. Navy, which had already 3D printed tens of thousands of masks by early April, determined the 3D printed frame would be best fitted with four rubber bands and a cloth filter. Each assembly takes about 20 minutes to produce and is safely packaged in a plastic bag. In Japan, a Marine Corps team began printing 800 masks a day, while a naval base in Maryland used glue guns and air conditioner filters to adapt the original design. It does seem a bit touch and go for military use, but the important thing is that the masks can be put to use immediately, without lengthy development and production times.
“Throughout the COVID-19 crisis and our collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration, NIH and Veteran Affairs, our goal has been to help provide a centralized location for safe and effective 3D-printed PPE,” said John Wilczynski, executive director of America Makes. “This design was really a proof point of that approach. There was an immediate need, a capability, and an avenue for the resulting design to be reviewed for appropriate use and shared.”
Fuller’s design has also been popular in the maker community, with GrabCAD and Thingiverse users reproducing and even remixing his design. Learn more about COVID-19 relief initiatives across the AM industry in our dedicated forum.