Arizona public power utility Salt River Project (SRP) has engaged in a collaborative effort to come up with a well- fitting mask to protect employees and customers against COVID-19.
In April, faced with pending shortages of personal protective equipment, the Arizona public power utility reached out to local businesses to fill its need for more face masks and hand sanitizer. But for employees in the field who cannot avoid contact with customers SRP was concerned that it could run out of N95 masks that provide a higher level of protection.
N95 masks are most frequently used in hospitals and health care settings to avoid the transmission of highly contagious diseases, and health care workers often have priority for available supplies of those masks.
SRP has an employee mask policy that allows for face covers as well as masks. “We still use all those other measures,” Chad Barrett, strategic operations manager for transportation services at SRP, said.
But for employees working on power lines, in distribution operations centers, interacting with customers, and ensuring water delivery the utility needed masks with a near-perfect seal around each the nose and mouth.
“Our health services team has been conducting COVID-19 tests and health screens for employees, and we were nervous when we noticed our supply of N95 masks was getting low,” Jodie Broderick, SRP’s manager of health services, said in a statement.
With knowledge gained from previous 3D-printed solutions to internal challenges, SRP’s transportation department prototyped different 3D-printed mask options. Barrett did a lot of the development work in his house.
SRP partnered with 3D modelers and 3D print fulfillment companies locally and nationally to come up with a mask design as effective as an N95 that was also practical for wear at work. The utility tested 3D designs publicly available on the National Institute of Health 3D print exchange website and made hybrid solutions.
The SRP development team worked with local Phoenix area company Athena 3D Manufacturing, which helped print mask concepts and recommended they contact Bellus3-D, a California technology company.
One of Bellus3D’s main products is facial scans for dental applications. Responding to the coronavirus pandemic, the company also developed a product it calls Mask Fitters, personalized 3D printed frames that improve the seal of face masks.
In June, SRP began scanning employees’ faces using the Bellus3D app on iPad kiosks in its facilities. The resulting Mask Fitter files are sent to a 3D print fulfillment company in Chicago, Custom Color 3D Printing.
SRP’s transportation services team also worked with Athena 3D Manufacturing to develop a design for a 3D-printed adjustable strap solution that keeps the Mask Fitter comfortably in place.
For the actual filter material for the masks, the SRP team turned to their surplus of KN95 masks. The KN95 mask filters out the same amount of particulate matter as an N95, but it does not seal as well around the nose and mouth, Barrett said. It is more readily available, he said.
SRP set up a process that includes scanning employees’ faces, sending the data off to create a digital facial profile, sending that file to the printer, and then testing the masks for fit using a smoke test.
“We’ve tested a lot of mask solutions the Transportation Services team came up with, and the 3D-printed solution with the Mask Fitter attachment is clearly the best,” Broderick said.
“The beauty of these Mask Fitters is their simplicity, and they can be worn an unlimited number of times if well cared for,” Barrett said.
So far, SRP has deployed about 130 custom-fitted masks and is looking to reach a total of 200, but “we are leaving our options open,” Barrett says. “We don’t have a final number. We are making sure all of the groups in SRP know about it.”
Barret says his transportation services team participated in finding out what is available in 3D realm. The utility’s purchasing and warehousing groups “get kudos for getting the filtration parts of our masks,” he said.
The IT department provided the needed tracking for the personalized fitting technology, the safety team had a “huge” role, and the utility’s nursing station worked on the testing and fitting of the masks, Barrett said. “It was a neat, collaborative effort.”
New York Power Authority employees are using 3D printers to make face shields for local health care workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effort grew out of a suggestion by Joseph Kessler, NYPA executive vice president and chief operating officer, that the statewide public power utility take advantage of its recent use of the 3D printer technology to help protect medical workers.
And Justin Kramer, the supervisor of emerging technologies at Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) in Florida, has made and delivered more than 150 3D masks to Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center, a longtime OUC community partner.