Topic: PPE shortage? Mini factories could be the answer
Surgical masks have been in short supply since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, as more people than ever don them to protect against the deadly virus. Now, automation organisations Mikron and Festo have come up with a novel solution for mask production, which could help hospitals, shopping centres and schools locally source their own masks and bypass the general supply chain. Chloe Kent finds out more.
Masks have an important role to play in helping to combat the spread of Covid-19, largely due to the prevalence of asymptomatic carriers who can transmit the virus to others without knowing they’re unwell. An estimated 6% to 18% of those infected will never display symptoms, and those who do go on to show signs of the disease will still experience an incubation period of around five to 14 days where they’re already contagious but don’t yet feel ill.
Routinely identifying all these carriers so they can self-isolate would be an impossible task, but wearing a mask reduces the number of droplets expelled into the atmosphere by an infected person significantly, as well as providing a degree of protection from infection in the first place.
Theoretically, if everyone wears a mask in public, asymptomatic Covid-19 carriers are a lot less likely to unwittingly spread the virus around.
While the surge in mask sales among the general public is indubitably a positive thing in curbing the spread of the virus, the surgical mask supply chain has never had to cope with demand like this before.
Supplies have run low for essential workers, with US nurses telling the Washington Post they’ve been wearing the same N95 masks for weeks on end because they can’t get any other supplies.
Mikron and Festo have now worked together to develop ‘mini factories’, mobile mask production units designed allow hospitals and other healthcare facilities to produce their own masks on-site.
The two companies’ scalable system can produce 50 to 100 face masks per minute and could be used to help medical facilities bypass the disrupted supply chains altogether.