SRP Employees Receive 3D Printed, Custom-fitted Mask Solution for COVID-19 Safety
Ahwatukee-based Athena 3D Manufacturing and face-scanning app company Bellus3D worked with SRP to deploy an alternative innovation to the N95 mask
With Arizona’s COVID-19 cases still on the rise, and a global shortage of N95 masks, Salt River Project (SRP), along with the help of local and national partners, developed state-of-the-art, 3D-printed mask solutions for its employees in the field as an added measure to keep the community safe.
The men and women working on power lines, in distribution operations centers, interacting with customers and ensuring water delivery, must have access to masks that achieve a near-perfect seal around each person’s nose and mouth. N95 masks, when properly fitted, are the only masks designated by the Food and Drug Administration to block 95 percent of airborne particles. Despite not having access to enough N95 masks for employees, SRP’s Transportation Services team, with knowledge gained from previous 3D-printed solutions to internal challenges, prototyped different 3D-printed mask options leading to a custom-fit solution.
“A lot of research and development has been done in my house,” said Chad Barrett, Strategic Operations Manager for Transportation Services at SRP. “We have worked on four different iterations of the mask concept since coronavirus set in. Each iteration required improved design changes, printing prototypes as well as smoke testing on different face shapes and sizes to make sure the masks were keeping unwanted particles out.”
SRP partnered with 3D modelers and 3D print fulfillment companies locally and across the country to make a viable 3D-printed mask solution come to life. They tested 3D designs made publicly available on the National Institute of Health (NIH) 3D print exchange website and made hybrid solutions from there. Working closely with SRP’s Safety Services team, the goal was to develop a mask that works as well as an N95 mask and is practical for SRP employees to wear while working in in all various job functions across the organization.
SRP’s early mask models were full-respirator style, compatible with many different filtration materials and included a silicon face-seal solution. The full-size masks with silicone seal kept out particulate matter, but were ultimately time consuming to produce and did not always seal across all face shapes and sizes. During the process, the team worked with Athena 3D Manufacturing, based out of Ahwatukee, which helped them print mask concepts and recommended SRP try a mobile app called FaceApp from Bellus3D to create custom “Mask Fitters™” based off the exact profile of each employee’s face. The Mask Fitter™ fits over any filtration material and provides a proper seal to keep out particulate matter. The Bellus3D face scanning app was originally designed to generate a 3D model of a person's face, but the company enhanced the application to generate a personalized Mask Fitter™ frame for companies and individuals in need of better fitting masks as a result of COVID-19.
Beginning in June, SRP began scanning employees’ faces using the Bellus3D app on iPad kiosks inside its facilities. With each employee face scan, the app creates a measurement of the employee’s face, to scale, then creates a custom Mask Fitter™ frame, then saves a file for each employee’s Mask Fitter™. From there, the Mask Fitter™ files are sent to a 3D print fulfillment company in Chicago, Custom Color 3D Printing, which owns commercial 3D printers for large orders of the 3D-printed parts.
The Transportation Services team also worked with Athena 3D Manufacturing to develop a design for a 3D-printed adjustable strap solution, or “head cradle,” that keeps the Mask Fitter™ comfortably on each individual’s face. 3D-printed brackets connect the straps to the Mask Fitter™ and can detach and reattach when the employee would like to remove their mask or swap in a new filter.
The SRP team decided to use KN95 masks – which they had a surplus of – that could be swapped in and out as the filter part of the mask. The combination of the Mask Fitters™, head cradles, brackets, and removable filters make this solution ideal for SRP employees who have been working onsite and in the field throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from our teams who have tested the masks, and we know these are much more durable and easier to work with than N95’s,” said John Hughes, Supervisor of Field and Shop Operations at SRP. “They don’t slide around your face, and they are much easier to breathe through. Our crews in the field like to be able to keep the mask around their neck when alone in their vehicles, and position it back onto their face when they are coming in contact with residential or commercial customers.”
Now in full production, the SRP Transportation Services team is getting ready to deliver its first shipment of 200 Mask Fitters™ to SRP employees. A completely collaborative effort, the SRP Health Services team were some of the first to wear mask prototypes to determine which mask could endure smoke tests. They were the first to embrace the Mask Fitters™ for mass use.
“Our Health Services team has been conducting COVID-19 tests and health screens for employees, and we were nervous when we noticed our supply of N95 masks was getting low,” said Jodie Broderick, Manager of Health Services at SRP. “We’ve tested a lot of mask solutions the Transportation Services team came up with, and the 3D-printed solution with the Mask Fitter attachment is clearly the best—even for women or people with smaller faces, these pass the fit test.”
The SRP Service Now team has helped develop a Ticket System to track the implementation of each mask, from scanning to delivery. For now, the masks are being developed for all employees in critical service roles, but the goal is to deploy them to more of SRP’s employees. SRP believes it is the first utility company to deploy 3D printed Mask Fitters™ for a large quantity of employees.
“The beauty of these Mask Fitters is their simplicity, and they can be worn an unlimited number of times if well cared for,” said Barrett. “They can be wiped down and filters can be swapped out whenever damaged or soiled. We’re happy to give a comfortable, long-lasting solution to SRP employees during a time when additional safety precautions are necessary.”
SRP is a community-based, not-for-profit public power utility and the largest provider of electricity in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, serving more than 1 million customers. SRP is also the metropolitan area’s largest supplier of water, delivering about 800,000 acre-feet annually to municipal, urban and agricultural water users.
About Athena 3D Manufacturing
Athena 3D Manufacturing is a “3D print machine shop” or service provider that utilizes the latest 3d printing technology with a focus in production 3d printing. Athena 3D challenges the traditional notion of how products are designed, fabricated, and brought to market. We were founded with a singular focus: to create production-quality parts with production volumes and pricing.
About Bellus3D, Inc.
Bellus3D is the innovative leader in high-resolution 3D face scanning. Our goal is to enable personalized products using the face by providing fast, easy and affordable 3D face scanning to companies and individuals who are creating products for the face. We are working with companies in key vertical markets including dental, eyewear, medical, cosmetic and 3D Printing to facilitate their goal of delivering highly personalized products to their customers.