The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the short comings of our PPE supply chains originating mostly in Asia. Although the shortage of face masks, gloves, gowns, etc. has been somewhat alleviated over the past few months, many healthcare workers still have difficulty obtaining sufficient PPE for their needs. Towards that end, the Fraunhofer USA Center for Manufacturing Innovation at Boston University has developed a unique, integrated and fully automated machine to produce high-quality face masks. Due to its compact size and ease of use, this machine can be installed in small facilities near the point of use; including hospitals, army bases, companies, universities, etc. The machine can be used “on demand” similar to the way a copy machine is used. Imagine a machine installed at a hospital or army base, and every few days you walk up to it, punch in how many “copies” (i.e. masks) you’d like, and they are produced for you in real time. This will mitigate supply issues and be a paradigm shift away from storing PPE in a central location. Alternatively, the machine, or several such machines, can be run continuously to supply a local market.
Our automated machine produces 35 high-quality masks per minute (2000/hour). The masks are comprised of three layers: the outermost layer is a spunbond polypropylene; the middle layer is meltblown polypropylene that has a pore size of 10µm or less with excellent breathability; the innermost layer is also spunbond polypropylene that feels good against the skin.
Most of the disposable masks that you see today are made in China even with a number of US manufacturers present in the marketplace, including 3M, Honeywell, Kimberley-Clark, and Jabil. As far as we are aware, all manufacturers produce their masks on production lines that are not integrated into one compact machine. These lines require more than one machine to produce the complete mask: one machine to make the pleated fabric mask blanks, and another to attach the ear loops. Thus, they are better suited for centralized production. Our integrated machine is unique in that it produces the entire mask by utilizing on-the-fly ear loop placement. That is, the ear loops are placed and ultrasonically welded to the mask fabric while it is in motion through the system.
For more information contact Dr. Andre Sharon (firstname.lastname@example.org)