3D Printed Mask in Response to Coronavirus Crisis Passes Clinical Review — Multiplies Surgical Mask Stocks by 4X

Reusable nylon mask made through powder bed fusion is easy to disinfect, uses replaceable filter media. Link to design file provided.


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Photo: Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post referred to the mask described below as FDA-approved. That is too strong. The device has not met this level of regulatory approval. Rather, it has undergone review in a clinical setting, and it qualifies as a recommended stopgap in the time of the COVID-19 crisis when standard PPE is in short supply. The title of this post and the text below have been changed accordingly.

Clinicians from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) have demonstrated the effectiveness of a 3D printed surgical mask design for use in response to the shortage of medical supplies resulting from the coronavirus crisis. The mask design can be found on the NIH 3D Print Exchange. The material is nylon; the 3D printing method is powder bed fusion via selective laser sintering. The mask is not strictly FDA approved, but meets an expedited standard for use as a stopgap during the COVID-19 emergency.

Designed by a team from the VHA, the mask does not qualify as an N95 respirator, according to a tweet from Dr. Beth Ripley, a physician and Senior Innovation Fellow with the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. Rather, it qualifies for use as a surgical mask. The difference is meaningful — a surgical mask is loose-fitting and protects against droplets, while an N95 respirator is tight fitting and limits exposure to particles. (More about the difference here.) The printed mask is reusable and easy to disinfect, and it holds in place a disposable filter media.

The intended media for now is cut up portions of standard surgical masks, according to another tweet from Ripley. One standard disposable surgical mask can be cut into four filters for this 3D printed mask. The 3D printed mask therefore offers the opportunity to multiply the life of a hospital’s existing stock of surgical masks by a factor of four.