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The 15-Minute 3D Printed Face Mask that went ‘Viral’

Face Mask
Face Mask
Above: Mark Fuller wearing his face mask/Image Credit: Mark Fuller

GE Additive Employee Mark Fuller designed and developed a 3D printed face mask that can be printed in just 15 minutes and costs next to nothing. Furthermore, the unique face mask can also be fitted with a filter making it better and safer than most available in the market.

It started as a simple search for his usual gears like gloves, goggles or masks, but ultimately led to a design that went viral and has been appreciated by U.S. National Institutes of Health, picked up by U.S. Navy, U.S Marine Corps stationed in Japan, and multiple other defence personnel stationed at various bases across the globe.

THE STORY OF THE ‘VIRAL’ 3D PRINTED MASK

Face Mask
Above: Face mask designed by Mark Fuller/Image Credit: Mark Fuller

Mark Fuller is a GE Additive employee where he helps to design parts for aircraft, rockets and even race cars that can be printed out of metal in one hair-thin layer at a time.

At home he is a maker and always involved building creations of some fellow tinkerers from the maker community. One of his initial projects was the creation of a design for a fidget spinner. The design went viral and it was downloaded more than 2 million times.

Like a regular person at home, Mark went to shop for his usual gear – gloves, goggles or masks to complete a woodworking job. But the local shops did not have what he needed. This made him search online and to his surprise he found out that the gear he buys for 50 cents now sold at $30. A staggering amount he was not willing to pay.

Mark thought he could do better and got to work to create a cheaper version of a face mask. He downloaded a few open-source designs but found them to be full of flaws. He noticed that one of them took 10 hours to print, another couldn’t be printed successfully and a third that got a lot of attention required a scuba mask and specific HEPA filters.

Mark used his fundamental designing skills and tried to eliminate all the unnecessary things in a mask and finally churned out a design that only had a thin ring of mouldable plastic with small cleats for string or rubber bands to hold the frame to the wearer’s face, under which the wearer could fit any fabric that could act as a filter. Fuller was hoping for something that could be printed anywhere but also mass-produced by more conventional means.

According to Mark, “I designed it in a way that you can take the same core geometry and go and injection mould them or go and laser cut them. What machines are not being utilized for production today can be used to help save lives.”

In just five days, Mark had a new design that could be 3D printed in 15 minutes, He uploaded the design to get feedback. Mark received a lot of feedback on the design and he iterated on the suggestions to finally make the best possible design.

The final design was then introduced to the GE Additive COVID-19 Task Force which started sending out his face mask to hospitals.

3D PRINTED FACE MASK – USE CASE

Face Mask
Above: GE offered the design to additive manufacturing leaders at the Navy’s Air Systems Command and found them enthusiastic/Image credits: U.S. Dept. of Defense

The face mask is a minimalistic version of the heavy-duty designs available on the market. It does way with a lot of unnecessary things and keeps the purpose of the mask simple.

The face mask can be 3D printed in just 15 minutes. According to Mark, the mask uses only 9 cents worth of plastic raw material. It also works with just about any filter materials on hand, from an air conditioner filter to a piece of terry cloth to a paper towel.

Face Mask
Above: Marines put 3D printing to use in COVID-19 fight/Image Credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense

GE offered the design to additive manufacturing leaders at the Navy’s Air Systems Command and found them enthusiastic. The Navy has been quick to adopt additive manufacturing, printing out some aircraft parts like valves but also helmet modifications.

The National Institutes of Health, meanwhile, found the design to be suitable for community use against the coronavirus, which in turn gave the Navy a green light at a time of great uncertainty.

Speaking about the mask, Liz McMichael, additive manufacturing integrated program team lead for the U.S. Navy said, “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. It was fantastic to have a design that afforded us the opportunity to rapidly respond to this urgent fleet need.”

To be sure, the mask is not an N95 alternative and isn’t certified to be used as a medical device. But Navy additive manufacturing teams determined that the frame would work best when paired with four rubber bands to hold the mask in place and a small patch of cloth as a filter, packaged in a small plastic bag and produced in about 20 minutes. The minimalistic design, ability to manufacturing it in under 20 minutes, costing only around 10 cents per piece (can be reduced if mass manufactured) and also the ability to incorporate filters made the U.S. Navy approve it and so sailors and Marines were printing GE’s mask by the tens of thousands.


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