The Air Force is starting to use 3D printers to create reusable, plastic N95 masks for the local medical community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the service.
The 312th Training Squadron’s Special Instruments Training course instructors, based out of Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, are using a model crafted by a neurosurgeon and a dental company after seeing posts about other groups using the design in a Facebook group called Air Force Quarantine University.
“We saw other people 3D printing medical supplies and we thought we should try printing things like face masks and face shields,” Master Sgt. Manuel Campo, 312th Training Squadron SPINSTRA flight chief, said in an Air Force news release.
Right now, only instructors are printing out the masks, but they are eyeing bringing students on board as well if there is an increased demand for the supplies.
The objective of this effort is to accommodate the 17th Medical Group based out of Goodfellow Air Force Base, and also local hospitals nearby to ensure they have proper personal protective equipment. It’s unclear what the output will be, but SPINSTRA instructors will coordinate with the medical group to nail down what medical personnel need.
“We plan to present what we have created to the medical group to see if we can meet their needs and print what they need,” said Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bahr, 312th Training Squadron SPINSTRA instructor.
“The most realistic option for us to make was the face shields,” Bahr said. “The purpose of the face shield is to extend the use of the face mask. The goal is to reduce the number of masks being used and thrown out after one use.”
Due to a replaceable filtration device, the design the Air Force has employed allows the mask to be worn multiple times.
Other branches of the military have also stepped in to help personal protective equipment. For example, parachute riggers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington have been tasked with sewing up to 1,500 surgical masks each week for those afflicted with COVID-19.
On Sunday, the Pentagon issued guidance instructing service members to cover their face while in public, although N95 or surgical masks are off limits so medical personnel can use them.
The Pentagon announced Tuesday that more than 1,500 troops have tested positive for the virus. Additionally, more than 900 DoD civilians, contractors and dependents have also tested positive.