Companies and families work to produce mass quantities of protective masks

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WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Companies and individual families in Central Texas have been working tirelessly to produce mass quantities of protective masks and other tools to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Essentium, a 3D printing company announced this week that it has designed and is now producing a protective mask kit comprising a reusable 3D printed mask frame and filter.

The first run of 500 masks will be delivered to the Pflugerville Police and Fire Department the second week of April, following an order from the City of Pflugerville’s Community Development Corporation.

Thirty pilot units were already delivered to the Pflugerville Police Department.

Essentium anticipates its initial production to be 5,000 units per week, according to Blake Teipel, Essentium’s CEO and co-founder.

“The concept of a first responder changed overnight for our nation. As well as our medical, police and emergency services, there is now an extended family of first responders such as grocery store workers, delivery personnel and refuse collectors who have stepped up to keep us safe in our homes. While Essentium cannot be a first responder, we can be a second-tier responder. Where the supply chain for PPE is faltering, we can and we have stepped in; and we can do it with speed, to approved design that can be delivered with reliable and repeatable quality, at scale.”

Blake Teipel, Essentium’s CEO and co-founder.

The Essentium reusable mask frame is made with a special material that allows for easy cleaning. In addition, it’s used with a single-use, replaceable filtration media. The Essentium mask has been created for non-medical use and is freely available.

Meanwhile, wearing a mask all day can get irritating, so a local couple is using its own at-home 3D printer to create mask holders.

“I work in healthcare and I know how irritating the loops can be for your ears after wearing them for long periods of time,” Nikki Rangel said. “With everything going on, knowing that health care workers are in their masks all day, my wife and I decided to help out.”

Nikki Rangel’s wife, Luci Rangel, is an engineer. She bought her 3D printer about 6 months ago. Little did she know her household project maker would come in high demand.

The 3D printer the couple purchased is manufactured by Creality, a china-based company. Creality is currently making thousands of mask holders that allow people to loop their mask ties around the printed plastic and create a loop around the head. The company shared its file with anyone who has a 3D printer.

“We’re both at home. We see the need and all the work that everyone doing. This is something we could help with, instead of waiting around, waiting for things to subside,” Luci Rangel said.

The two put up a post on the “People of Round Rock” Facebook page Thursday evening. Within hours, hundreds were putting in requests for the attachment.

“We almost at a thousand requests,” Luci Rangel said.

“3D printing is not a quick process, it’s not like printing out a piece of paper,” Luci Rangel continued.”Printing out one can take anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes. Luckily, people have stepped up to volunteer as well. Hopefully, that will help.”

They’ve got their fare share of work in store, but others with 3D printers have stepped up to help. Nikki and Luci have also bought two more printers to help speed up the process.

“We’re just giving them away. We’re making sure people that need them, have them,” Luci Rangel said. “As much as we can give back, we will. We have had people making donations, so we’ll put that towards other filaments.”

Luci and Nikki have a form up to request a holder. Right now they’re trying to get them printed and coordinate drop-offs, while keeping up with social distancing standards.

Austin’s Couch Potatoes has also stepped up to the plate by shifting from furniture production to #FurnishtheFrontline. The company is creating masks and gowns in response to COVID-19.

Austin Couch Potatoes creating at-home mask kits.

“We’re now offering an at-home sewing kit for those who want to help.” said Caroline Pinkston with Austin Couch Potatoes. “The team’s new goal is to create 1,500 masks and 6,000 gowns a day with a team of volunteers.”

Those looking to help in the local Austin area, can sign up here. A trained volunteer will drop off the kit with materials, with an instructional video link that explains the sewing mask process.  

The goal is for each volunteer to sew 50 at home, and ACP will arrange the pick-up. If you need a mask you can follow this link.

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