PPE shortage

DOs develop DIY guide to creating respirator masks with a 3D printer

Design allows health care professionals to print their own 3D respirator shells for P100 filters.


At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Steve Martin, DO, and James R. Latronica, DO, residents at the Clarion Hospital family medicine residency program in Clarion, Pennsylvania, saw calls for personal protective equipment (PPE) across the world and came up with an innovative solution.

Thanks in part to grants from the Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association Foundation (POMAF) and the American Osteopathic Information Association (AOIA), the two DOs have developed a design to create a custom-fitted P100 respirator mask using a 3D printer. They’ve dubbed the mask the Unity in recognition of the unifying act of wearing a mask to protect the community.

The design and instruction manual, which includes a supply list, suggested budget and a detailed step-by-step tutorial, is available free-of-charge for download. Or watch the video tutorial above.

The price range for the required equipment, including a 3D printer, to produce masks using their design is roughly $360 to $5,600. Most of the production materials are available at Amazon or any large hardware store.

Using their design, health care professionals can print their own 3D standard and custom-fitted respirator shells for P100 filters, which have been shown to capture 99.97% of airborne microparticles. Commonly used in commercial, nonmedical settings, many hospitals are turning to these kinds of industrial masks in the absence of traditional, FDA-approved masks that are in short supply. 

“Something functional and comfortable”

The two DOs started talking about alternative PPE solutions when they saw how quickly N95 masks were going out of stock in March. The relative availability of P100 filters, as well as their universal square shape, made creating a mask compatible with them a logical choice for their design. To create it, they used 3D printers at their homes and hospital.

Dr. Martin, who has been 3D printing for over a decade as a hobby and primarily handled the technical aspects of the design, said the No. 1 goal was to make something functional and comfortable.

“We weren’t going to try to reinvent the wheel,” Dr. Martin said. “We used infrared laser facial scanning to make a model from somebody’s face, and built from the ground up with that.”

Once Dr. Martin had made a working prototype and put a filter in it, the two DOs went to their hospital’s occupational health department to measure its effectiveness using a qualitative chemical test, which it passed.

To work on refining the mask and seeing it through to the finish line, they sought additional funding.

An expedited grant approval process

Dr. Latronica, a self-proclaimed 3D printing novice, handled securing grant funds. Though he was also new to writing grant proposals, he wrote one following a format he found online and submitted it to POMAF. Their approval process usually takes four to six weeks, but it was expedited and approved in just four days.

“That’s when I realized this could be a real thing,” Dr. Latronica said.

Dr. Latronica, a fellow in the AOA’s Training in Policy Studies (TIPS) program, sent his proposal to his AOA contacts following a TIPS meeting on COVID-19. Within days, the AOIA reached out for more details, and a few weeks later, the AOIA approved his proposal.

“It kind of felt aimless until the grants were approved, because we were just hoping to make some masks for people who were resorting to using bandannas,” Dr. Latronica said. “They gave us a focus. We thought, ‘if we can provide a list of materials and instructions, anybody will be able to print one of these masks.’ ”

What’s next

The two DOs are now also working on a design for 3D-printable powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs), masks that constantly blow filtered air in during use and are more effective than N95s.

PAPRs are usually prohibitively expensive and hard to get through typical channels due to manufacturing delays, Dr. Martin said. This design may make more of an impact than their masks, he notes. It works with the same universal P100 filters and is more comfortable than regular N95s or the masks they’ve made a design for.

While their own hospital has adequate PPE, Drs. Martin and Latronica said they hope their designs will help hospitals with PPE shortages meet some of the unprecedented needs that have arisen during the pandemic.

“This disruptive virus should be met in kind with disruptive technologies,” Dr. Martin said. “The democratization of technology and distributive manufacturing can enable forward-thinkers to empower and protect their respective communities.”

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One comment

  1. Parivash Sanders, DO

    You can also use a 3D printed face mask with smaller filter area, allowing one to cut a surgical or n95 into 4 squares to act as filters, via makethemasks.com

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