Major shortage of personal protective equipment: it has been a recurring theme throughout the corona crisis. But from now on, healthcare workers at the Antwerp University Hospital will have access to a steady supply of FFP2 masks, manufactured in the heart of Antwerp by product developers at the University of Antwerp.
Early March experts warned that Belgium was facing an impending shortage of the advanced FFP2 and FFP3 masks. The alarm did not go unheard by the product developers at UAntwerp.
‘There are many different types of face mask’, observes Stijn Verwulgen. ‘The hospital gave us a few examples of existing types of masks they liked the most. That was our starting point. We experimented with filters, 3D printers and laser cutters. Contacts were established with multiple partners, including from the industrial world. After a time, we had a prototype that would meet medical requirements while also being comfortable and producible.’
The efforts paid off. ‘In May, we were able to deliver the first load of face masks to the hospital’, recounts Regan Watts. ‘Our emergency production line has now been fine-tuned: the shape of the mask is cut out automatically using a Trotec laser cutter. The two layers of polypropylene are fixed together with a filter between them using ultrasonic seams, thereby eliminating the need for holes in the mask.’
The production line can accommodate 10 people, each producing one mask every 20 seconds. ‘We received a German certificate of conformity for our masks’, Jouke Verlinden explains. ‘At this time, we might be the only place in Belgium where these types of specialised masks are being produced.’
Designed in Antwerp
The hospital is happy with the masks. Jo Swartenbroekx, the chief pharmacist at the Antwerp University Hospital, says: ‘We have invested a large amount of time and energy in supplying safe and comfortable FFP2 masks. We often had to reject masks from China, because they did not meet our standards. This production provides us with a suitable alternative, and it will allow us to prepare for a new wave of COVID-19 infections.’
More information: https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/projects/mouthmasks/production-face-masks/