Journal of Manufacturing Systems | 2021

Additively manufactured respirators: quantifying particle transmission and identifying system-level challenges for improving filtration efficiency



\n The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals, including N95-type respiratory protective masks. To address this shortage, many have looked to the agility and accessibility of additive manufacturing (AM) systems to provide a democratized, decentralized solution to producing respirators with equivalent protection for last-resort measures. However, there are concerns about the viability and safety in deploying this localized download, print, and wear strategy due to a lack of commensurate quality assurance processes. Many open-source respirator designs for AM indicate that they do not provide N95-equivalent protection (filtering 95% of SARS-CoV-2 particles) because they have either not passed aerosol generation tests or not been tested. Few studies have quantified particle transmission through respirator designs outside of the filter medium. This is concerning because several polymer-based AM processes produce porous parts, and inherent process variation between printers and materials also threaten the integrity of tolerances and seals within the printed respirator assembly. No study has isolated these failure mechanisms specifically for respirators. The goal of this paper is to measure particle transmission through printed respirators of different designs, materials, and AM processes. The authors compare the performance of printed respirators to N95 respirators and cloth masks. Respirators in this study printed using desktop- and industrial-scale fused filament fabrication processes and industrial-scale powder bed fusion processes were not sufficiently reliable for widespread distribution and local production of N95-type respiratory protection. Even while assuming a perfect seal between the respirator and the user’s face, although a few respirators provided >90% efficiency at the 100−300 nm particle range, almost all printed respirators provided <60% filtration efficiency. Post-processing procedures including cleaning, sealing surfaces, and reinforcing the filter cap seal generally improved performance, but the printed respirators showed similar performance to various cloth masks. The authors further explore the process-driven aspects leading to low filtration efficiency. Although the design/printer/material combination dictates the AM respirator performance, the identified failure modes originate from system-level constraints and are therefore generalizable across multiple AM processes. Quantifying the limitations of AM in producing N95-type respiratory protective masks advances understanding of AM systems toward the development of better part and machine designs to meet the needs of reliable, functional, end-use parts.\n

Volume 60
Pages 762 - 773
DOI 10.1016/j.jmsy.2021.01.002
Language English
Journal Journal of Manufacturing Systems

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