Re-Purposing Your Robot to make N95 Masks

As many of you are no doubt aware, the COVID-19 outbreak has lead to a world-wide shortage of N96 masks. Many hospitals are rationing their supply to only ER & ICU staff, leaving the remaining staff and patients exposed and possible disease vectors.

The company I work for believes small scale production lines of vac-form tooling and dies used to produce N95 masks could be made from common parts in any FRC kit.
In other words, turn your robot shop into a small N95 plant.

We are currently working on plans to make available to any and all teams.

Is this something any teams would be interested in pursuing?

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I would leave the creation of medical equipment to facilities that can handle the sanitation and QA processes required.

FRC Teams can help, but manufacturing is not the place. Things teams can do that would be helpful:

  • Make meals for those who have to go to work (ie healthcare)
  • Raise money for red cross or other aid-giving charity
  • Encourage social distancing and create programs that help parents staying at home to occupy their children
  • Volunteer with aid organizations like Meals on Wheels
  • Ask local seniors and others who are immunocompromised if they need help with shopping and other out-and-about tasks
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So many threads on this type of stuff already. Please use search

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Donate blood.
Search for minimum requirements in you locale.

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You can’t make N95 masks in your little shop. The shortage is caused by the material used to make the cores of the masks (melt-blown fabric). The machinery to make melt-blown fabric is expensive (millions of dollars) and is a huge complicated chemical process. One roll of melt-blown fabric that used to go for $6000 is now going for $60,000. Please go read about what’s required first.

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That is very true. We are also looking into an alternative acceptable material to circumvent that shortage.

In that case, if you can share what material you come up with, I’d be very interested. Dozens of people were laid off here today, and we’d love to retool to make N95 masks and bring those employees back into work. We can make tooling and we have in-house automation resources, and we have presses idle and ready to go.

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Goretex?
That has a pore size smaller than the N95 (0.2 micron vs 0.3 for the N95 mask and HEPA filters in general).

FWIW, virus are in the 0.1 range.
However the viruses travel via a droplet of sputum, etc. that are significantly larger than 0.3

There are a number of alternative material trade-offs we are investigating. Pore size being among them, but also moisture, CO2, and heat retention.

Most teams are based in schools.
Most schools are closed currently.

Even if there were a suitable replacement for N95, and even if there were a way to test and validate these pieces of PPE produced by amateurs, you aren’t going to find many teams in a position to utilize their shops for this effort currently.

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Absolutely agree that most teams are not in a position to make anything, never mind ventilators, mask, gowns, …PPE.

I was more responding to @Autom8it and that his employer/business has been shut down and folks layed off.

I get that the FRC community wants to help and leverage their skill set and resources.
Again, donate blood.

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See HELP the COVID-19 Situation: Pretend to be a doctor!

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[quote=“C_Fox, post:9, topic:382985”] but also moisture, CO2, and heat retention.
[/quote]

My experience with N95 from work is that they are hot/stuffy and trap some moisture.
I purchased N95 from Amazon (long time ago) to wear when I mow the lawn, yard work, etc. I bought the ones with one way exhaust valves and those are SIGNIFICANTLY more comfortable!

Gore-tex is a reasonable suggestion based on pore size. Gore-tex is often used in reusable ER drapes and gowns because pathogens can’t pass through it. But based on my experience when they advertise it as “breathable” it means that evaporated moisture can pass through, so you don’t get sweaty when you wear clothing made out of it. I have some old scraps of gore-tex at home… I could try tonight but I’m pretty sure you can’t actually breath through it. Worth a try, I guess.

Gore textiles are in the medical supply business. You’d think they and 3M would be all over this if you could make an N95 mask out of the stuff.

It is on the table as a possible alternative. It hasn’t been eliminated yet.

I don’t think you have raw Goretex at home. I believe the Goretex material is bonded to another surface (the jacket material that you might have). The material in question may or may not have good breathability qualities. A jacket has other desirable qualities such as wind protection which would (I think) make it less breathable.
Just a guess, but I’d think the Goretex would have to be bonded to a thin, breathable material.
…I recall that some variation of Goretex is also used to make artificial vessels (aorta comes to mind).

Understood that many teams’ shops are in currently closed schools. There may be ways around that down the line. For instance, teams that have access to sponsor facilities. Or, admittedly way more of a stretch, getting county approval that this work be deemed “essential” to get around many of the shelter in place orders.

Regardless of the sheet stock used, we would handle the logistics. Buy in bulk, distribute to participating teams. The sheet stock would not be something any team would build in house or source.
We’re still reviewing CDC & FDA requirements vs. obtainable alternatives.
We would also likely handle logistics for testing & sterilization. Teams theoretically would just handle cut & form operations. There is a LOT of red tape to jump through still.

While it’s correct to put the damper on someone who thinks they can make something in their basement that looks like a mask and wants to call it an N95 mask, the fact is that there are legitimate manufacturing companies out there with professional engineers (like myself) on staff who understand supply chains, and liability, and regulations. These are the companies that governments are asking to re-tool to help with the pandemic.

It’s not bad for the high schoolers in the FIRST community to be exposed to how real engineers look at problems like this, what kind of process they go through to narrow down potential candidates, etc.

Step 1, if you have an idea and want to help, is to do your homework. Read everything you can about the problem, and what others have been doing to try to solve it.

Step 2 is to start searching for candidate ideas. Has anyone else tried that? Is it feasible?

Step 3 is narrowing down candidates by asking tough questions. Can it be done with the resources that are available to you? Can you source the components? Can you make them yourself? Are there regulatory requirements? What’s involved in that? Who’s done it before - can we talk to them?

Everyone has a chance to do something, but you need to approach these problems with a skeptical eye. Lots of smart and motivated people are working on it.

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