Small business owner makes 3D printed masks to aid in effort during PPE shortage

Masks being made using a 3D printer. (Johnathan Johnson)
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) As individuals and businesses rally together to help the community during the novel coronavirus pandemic, there are many different mask-making efforts, including one using 3D printers. Jonathan Johnson with iTWorks is making 3D printed masks to donate to those in need in Fairbanks.

Johnson says he knows many people in Fairbanks who have had a gap in being able to obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“Seeing that gap, we decided to go to work and produce something that could help them out. We are all kind of in that weird spot right now where our daily lives are very disrupted. I’m not even working as normal right now due to the restrictions and mandates and everything in place. So it is like 'what do we do with our time'? I can sit at home and I can make puzzles, or we could do something to help the effort,” said Johnson.

He says they normally use the 3D printers for work related projects, but he also is a self-proclaimed “enthusiast” and likes using 3D printers as a hobby.

“When it comes to me and 3D printing, I kind of think that it’s possible to do anything. So immediately when presented with a problem, I’m always using it like it’s a tool that can solve that problem,” said Johnson.

He looked into what type of 3D printed masks others have made and assessed which ones would be best for the public. Johnson said they considered how easy the mask was to reproduce, and benefits of a printed mask over a cloth mask.

“We found a solution that a medical group down south has made and has even had tested. There’s testing data for that particular mask now in terms of its effectiveness, its seal, and its capabilities. So using that, we went to work at trying to find a way to make them as quickly as possible,” said Johnson.

He is working with the local mask makers group, as well having help from friends who represent 9 Lives Auto and Arctic Wings RC. As of Thursday, they had made 188 masks, not including the ones they had made that day.

Along with people in Fairbanks, Johnson is in communication with a pediatric clinic in Anchorage that needs 30 masks. They are also hoping to send some masks to Fort Yukon.

Johnson emphasized that people can sanitize these masks and reuse them multiple times. “The major benefit about this particular design of mask is that you insert a filter in the center of it that you can make out of surgical material, surgical wrap, drape, fabric, and HEPA filters... anything that is sufficient material. What they are finding is you can take one paper mask that a doctor or nurse would use, and you could cut that into 10 uses with one of these 3D printed mask. So we can take the material that’s there and stretch it out to multiple uses because you’re only using a little bit of the fabric, and you clean and sanitize the mask and reuse it,” said Johnson.

Those who are in need of masks or want more information can email Jonathan at info@itworksak.com.

“Right now we just want the community to know that there are people out there who are trying to help fill the gap. I know there are a lot of people that are scared right now about how this is going... that we have not hit the peak yet. Are we prepared? Do we have the materials? I do not want to answer those questions, but I do want to say that there are people who are part of this community that are really coming together to work together for the first time ever. They don’t know each other, but they’re getting connected and we’re all trying to grow it as much as we can to provide something that helps the public or the healthcare professionals. I just want them to know we’re trying the best we can, and thanks for supporting us,” said Johnson.

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