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3D printed face masks joining fight against Covid-19 in Slovenia

3D printed face masks joining fight against Covid-19 in Slovenia Photo: Univerza na Primorskem

Shortages of protective gear during the coronavirus pandemic have prompted that new platforms of providing much needed equipment are opening up in Slovenia, such as creating face masks using 3D printers. An initiative has started developing hospital gear as well as supporting home production.

The Let’s Protect Slovenia initiative has printed out the first 3D face shields in Slovenia in cooperation with the Primorska University, Izola hospital and Ljubljana Technology Park.

The university has said that the first prototypes have been already despatched to the hospital where they are being tested in the physical world.

Slovenia has thus actively joined foreign countries where the 3D printing technology is already used to mitigate shortages of the coveted gear during the pandemic.

The masks are printed at the university and are compatible with microbiological filters that are part of medical respirators.

A filter model that has been employed in developing 3D-printed masks is certified to be 99.99% efficient in protecting the wearer. The masks are meant for multiple use to boot.

Apart from providing the gear for hospitals, the initiative has also given guidelines on how to use 3D printers to make masks at home. Last week, it made available an open-source format for the Gladius Friends 3D-mask model.

Any 3D printer can be used to make this type of a reusable mask. The initiative thus launched a campaign titled Mask for a Friend, urging citizens to print masks for themselves and their friends.

Open-source groups in the US and other European countries have started to make use of the prototype of such a home-made mask as well.

It is important to note though that the mask has not been certified as a medical equipment or personal protective gear.

Reservations about the mask for domestic use have emerged as well as warnings regarding its safety. The 3D Slovenija group has warned against using the shield, saying such products are porous and of questionable quality, cannot be sufficiently disinfected, are difficult to fit or seal, with home-made filter systems even posing a potential danger to health.

The platform has thus proposed that it would be more viable to make only the prototype and then use printing modes of higher quality or even industrial devices to make the masks, mimicking the production process of dive masks.

Meanwhile, the Let’s Protect Slovenia initiative insists that it is looking for the best possible solutions in the given situation, conceding that non-certified equipment is not optimal and that there is room for improvement.

Temperatures higher than 56 degrees Celsius kill coronaviruses and printed equipment can be disinfected in an oven. “We’ve tried disinfecting at 60 degrees Celsius, 45 minutes in an oven, and it works. I myself have tried it at even higher temperatures and the material endured,” said microbiologist Teja Bajt of the initiative.

On the other hand, concerns have been raised about the material reacting to temperatures of 40 degrees already and the chemicals used in the process. The problem with disinfecting it is thus great, said Matej Auguštin, who works for pharmaceuticals.

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