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Drexel U. works to fill critical need for masks and respirators

COVID-19, In the Industry, News | April 1, 2020 | By:

Drexel University design professor Genevieve Dion shifted 3D knitting machines from a Dept. of Defense project to the challenge of developing masks and respirators, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “This is an opportunity to show what advanced manufacturing can do and rapid prototyping can do,” said Dion, who directs Drexel’s Center for Functional Fabrics. 

The newspaper reports that the Center’s immediate goal is to develop surgical masks that can be washed, sized, and even be made of anti-bacterial and anti-viral material, said Charles Cairns, dean of the Drexel School of Medicine, who is helping Dion get her samples into the hands of doctors for feedback.

Longer term, Dion is working with Oat Foundry, an engineering and design firm founded by six Drexel graduates, to develop a respirator—a mask with an air filter that provides much more protection—that is washable and reusable. If the designs are successful, they would be made available to knitting mills for large-scale productions and could provide one example of how the COVID-19 disaster spurs industrial innovation. 

Drexel’s effort could produce several hundred masks a day, Dion said. Its prototype is still in the planning stages. While respirators, known as N95 masks, get more attention and are more critical to safety, there’s a need for both N95 and surgical masks, said Cairns. 

At Drexel, the speed of the development work has been “breathtaking,” Dion said. “Every day we do R&D that’s worth a month or a year.”

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