n95 coronavirus face mask health worker

Personalised 3D-printed facemasks made possible using smartphone mugshots

Image credit: Dreamstime

Personalised facemasks that are made in part with 3D-printed components could provide a sustainable alternative to single-use facemasks, researchers suggest.

A team from the University of Edinburgh has designed a system which generates 3D images of participants’ faces using either a precision scanner or three pictures taken with a smartphone.

From this, moulds can be created that precisely match the contours of an individual’s face. The moulds can be 3D-printed and used to make mask components made of silicone, with the final product assembled using additional plastic parts and a filter section.

While masks could be made using scanners or smartphone images, being able to capture pictures remotely is particularly beneficial during the pandemic due to social distancing rules and the ubiquity of remote working.


Computer simulation of the reusable facemasks

Image credit: University of Edinburgh

Researchers found that their masks provided the same level of protection as available single-use versions.

Bespoke masks also tended to fit better, with almost 90 per cent of volunteers wearing them passing a face fit test, compared with only 76 per cent of those using single-use masks. This could make them more reliable at preventing the spread of Covid-19.

Further tests showed that the reusable facemasks could be safely decontaminated using common household detergents – such as washing-up liquid – and cleaning materials used routinely in hospitals.

The trial was funded by the Chief Scientist Office (CSO)’s Rapid Research in Covid-19 programme.

Dr Adam Stokes, from the University’s school of engineering, said the funding was a crucial part of allowing the masks to be designed and then tested in a clinical trial.

“This project lays the groundwork for reusable PPE products that reduce the environmental impact from masks going to landfill, that enable resilience in the UK supply chain and that meet the highest FFP3 standards as required by front line healthcare workers,” he said.

“This team drew on our expertise from engineering, clinical practice and the private sector and we have developed, rapidly, a proven technology that could prove vital in saving lives and protecting the planet.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the rising global trend for regular use of disposable masks has led to concerns over their impact on the environment. Going some way towards mitigating this unwelcome side-effect, in February a team from Australia demonstrated how used masks can be turned into a material for building roads.

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