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UT researchers developing 3D-printed face masks

The researchers hope to work with local 3D-printing companies to start mass production.

AUSTIN, Texas — As health care workers treating coronavirus patients face a shortage of face masks and other personal protective gear, a group of researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas, along with some at Dell Medical School, are researching ways to increase supply through 3D printing.

Studies are still in the early phases, but the team hopes to design and print a face mask prototype with a reusable plastic shell, a replaceable filter, straps and a flexible foam or rubber seal. Their goal is to discover a method to custom fit masks where needed and make them safe to clean in the dishwasher or washing machine.

The researchers are talking with multiple 3D-printing companies in the Austin area to produce their designs. If they are able to work out an arrangement, they plan to mass-produce the masks after discovering the right combination of design and materials.

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According to the World Health Organization, estimates earlier this month indicated that coronavirus response will require around 89 million masks to be produced each month. To do so, manufacturers will have to increase production by about 40%.

The university reported that Dell Medical School itself had about 16 days’ worth of masks on-hand as of late last week.

Texas Inventionworks at Cockrell, formerly known as the Longhorns Makers Studios, helps engineering students develop, design and build products. The program consists of six initiatives: a curriculum lab for professors; education in design, fabrication and innovation; an innovation accelerator; student access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment; research partnerships; and engagement with industry.

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