A Connecticut doctor is using his 3D printer to make N95 face masks

Tribune Content Agency

HARTFORD, Conn. — Dr. Chris Wiles, a first year anesthesiology resident at Hartford and St. Francis hospitals and UConn Health, has turned to his 3D printing hobby to come up with a face mask health care workers can use should N95 masks run out.

The New London native said he searched online for a mask he could produce with his 3D printer, but ended up designing his own.

“I’ve always loved building things, wood working, design, electrical engineering as a hobby,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion for creating things. Wiles bought a 3D printer so that he could make parts for his car that he could not find online, and it has become a hobby.

For his masks, he uses basic 3D printing material and furnace filter, which is easily found at hardware stores.

The design process took about two weeks and then Wile began producing and refining the mask.

“I came up with something I thought made sense as a last resort measure,” Wiles said. Ideally, hospitals will not run out of the masks and equipment they need. But if they do, the 3D masks are a stand-in, he said.

“I wanted to have something better than surgical masks,” he said.

Wiles has been receiving lots of attention since placing a video of how he makes the masks and a link to download his plans on YouTube.

The video has more than 34,000 views, and people offered a variety of suggestions to make the mask better in the comments section.

Wiles encourages people to download the plans, posted to the YouTube page, to produce masks for their own use or for hospitals that might need them.

In the days since he began producing masks, Wiles has heard from a high school, a community college and a consortium of people with about 1,500 3D printers who want to help produce more masks.

“It’s been phenomenal,” he said. “I’m an amateur, maybe intermediate 3D designer. People have made good suggestions (and) have given me ideas on how to make the mask better. I’m working on it everyday.”

Hartford Hospital and St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center are so enthusiastic about Wiles’ backup mask they have bought 3D printers that Wiles will use to make more masks. Some will be stockpiled in case the N95s run out. Others could be sent to hospitals in need.

“I think within a week I’ll have more people printing than I can count or keep up with,” Wiles said.

The masks are printed in two parts — the face piece which can be printed in different sizes and can be further customized by heating it and placing it on a person’s face to better match facial contours. The second part is the filter. Hartford Hospital colleagues have volunteered to glue the filter material into the masks, Wiles said.

Each machine can produce three masks a day, he said. And the cost is very low.

Wiles stresses that the 3D printed masks are a backup and not a replacement for the equipment hospital workers now use. But as important supplies such as N95 masks become scarce or no longer available, the 3D printed mask can fill a gap, he said.

“My hope is we never need them,” Wiles said. “But if we do, we’ll have them.” It’s morally imperative to get them to hospitals elsewhere in the state and region who may need them, he added.

Infectious disease staff at Hartford Hospital have given their blessing to the mask as a last resort and as an alternative to a scarf, he said.

But Wiles is working with a physicist at UConn who is creating a replica of a COVID-19 contaminated room to evaluate how particles move or do not move through the mask’s filter. Wiles is hopeful that will help him and his colleagues get a better sense of how effective the mask is.

“We’re just trying to do our best to to keep as many healthcare workers safe in a worst case scenario if it comes to that,” he said.


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