The emergency situation caused by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic revealed the unpreparedness of governments (in the Czech Republic as well as abroad) to provide highly protective equipment to healthcare professionals treating patients with suspected or even proven COVID-19 disease. The research team of the Testbed for Industry 4.0 at CIIRC CTU, whose research infrastructure is an integral part of the European Centre of Excellence RICAIP, reacted on the urgent need and started to develop the prototype of a protective mask. In just one week, the CIIRC CTU research team designed a 3D printable half-mask to help tackle the current shortage.
The “CIIRC RP95-3D” protective half-mask, designed to be produced via special 3D printers – HP MultiJet Fusion – has been certified as a personal protective device with an exchangeable P3 filter according to the EN 140:1999 norm and provides the highest level of protection. The printing data has been released for non-commercial use to all owners of those printers via www.ciirc.cvut.cz/covid-2/ and www.rp95.cz webpages. The protective half-mask can be used repeatedly thus significantly helping workers in hotspots.
The CIIRC RP95-3D half-mask is a high-quality professional product that has been produced in cooperation with industrial partners. The research team managed to make the whole process from an initial idea to final production happen – in a very short amount of time. This is the main unique feature of this scientific product that distinguishes this solution from others.
The very first research idea to develop a protective mask on 3D printer raised on Thursday 12th of March, 2020. In two days, the first model was ready. On the fifth day, Monday 16th of March, the first press release on a successful prototype was published with a call to action for companies and institutions to join in further development. It turned out that partners more experienced with seals, exhalation valves or rubber bands were needed. The response was unexpected. Within a few days, hundreds of organizations, coming both from academia and industry, offered their assistance and expertise.
After one week, on Friday, 20th of March, the ready half-mask was successfully certified. It was a prerequisite accelerator for further production proceedings. In accordance with international good practice, new university spin-off TRIX Connections has been engaged to coordinate and secure the production logistics.
The main coordinator of the production, 3Dees Industries – official representative of HP 3D Printing for Czech Republic – connected the owners of all the remaining six HP MJF printers capable to produce the masks in the required quality in the Czech Republic. Together with the 3 Tech Company, 3Dees Industries also took care of the production of silicone seals, mask assembly and material distribution. Škoda Auto a.s., a long-term partner of CIIRC CTU, was the first to print prototypes. Other partners, such as Siemens, joined as well to print a series of components for up to 60 masks per day on one printer.
On the eleventh day from the initial idea, the production of the RP95-3D model was prepared and the order for first 500 pieces from the Ministry of Health of the Czech Republic was issued. The story of the mask continues – the design has been modified for mass production as the new RP95-M model for injection molding machines. The production with daily capacity of 10 000 pcs started in mid-April, just one month after the initial idea.
Without RICAIP, the development of the mask would not have been possible. The high-end technological 3D printing equipment originally acquired for printing of experimental robotic parts and grips was purchased by CIIRC CTU only a few weeks before the pandemic situation started.