20,000 Masks Produced In Montana to Address Shortage

Image provided by MMEC.

Montana, like many states, is feeling the strain and depletion of resources within our local hospitals. With personal protection equipment including masks constantly drained, those working on the frontlines are putting themselves at the greatest risk of exposure. Luckily the wider Montana community has stepped up to the plate to fill the need by sewing, injecting plastic molds, and 3D printing reusable medical masks for local hospitals. Paddy Fleming, Director of the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center was excited to share the news that 20,000 masks have been manufactured in state thus far, with more being made daily.

A group of three Billings-based Montanans have made a significant impact on the current surgical mask shortage with an easily-replicated and shareable 3-D printer mask model, known as the Montana Mask. Dusty Richardson, a Billings Clinic neurosurgeon, college graduate Colton Zaugg, and his father Spencer Zaugg, a local dentist, have created a 3D model for reusable face masks that have a separate replaceable filter.  These masks are similar to N95 masks, but N95 denotes a material grade used to produce those specific masks.

According to an article late last month from CNN, Richardson discussed that the filters are usable for an entire day and the plastic of the mask itself can be cleaned and disinfected for reuse. He estimated that these masks can be reused up to ten times. “We’re just trying to help people here,” Richardson said. “We want healthcare providers, especially, and patients to be safe.”

Recently, in partnership with Bozeman-based company Spark R&D, Montana Masks have transitioned from solely 3D printing to injection-molding production which allows for a higher volume of products in a wider variety of material that can be more comfortable. The instructions and files for the reusable masks have been posted online, and have been shared globally. Local entities in Montana have put their own 3D printers into use for this cause, including many of Montana’s public libraries, teachers at Helena’s public schools, as well as Montana State University - Billings and Rocky Mountain College. The mask design link can be found here.  

The Montana Science Center based in Billings has been one of those to step up to the plate. According to the Billings Daily Chronicle, as soon as the Billings Clinic approved the design for the 3-D masks, the Science Center began the process of printing. Executive Director Abby Turner noted that there is such a tremendous need in both the local community and those in surrounding areas, and as they continue to print they are still trying to figure out the most effective strategy for state-wide distribution.

The cost of the masks as a whole still remains relatively cheap. Turner discussed that the 3D printer utilizes filament rolls, and each roll makes approximately 20 masks. With the filament rolls costing about $20.00 each, the total cost per mask is reduced to around $1.00. 

Schools in the Helena Public School District are contributing to the effort by using the Montana Masks design with their 3D printers. Other entities are also responding to the ever-increasing needs of local Helena healthcare workers. The children’s museum ExplorationWorks  has also put their 3D printer to use to print protective medical masks. The museum has also made online resources available specifically for children to access when out of school. According to Executive Director Kelly Posewitz, “It’s been really hard for us, but we’re doing what we can for the community and trying to provide key resources to help them.

We applaud the benevolent efforts of citizens and companies who have stepped up to the plate to keep Montanans safe and support our health professionals and essential workers. You are making an incredible difference. 

Sewn face masks: Capacity: 3,000/week

No filter medium or filter medium other than N95

3D Printed Face-masks: Capacity 1,500/week

No filter medium or filter medium other than N95

Plastic Injection Molded Face-masks: 15,000/week

No filter medium

Plastic Face Shields: Capacity: 2,500/week

Please visit the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center's Coronavirus Response web page under the Montana Manufacturing of Critical Items section for up to date information on critical needs. Manufacturing Blueprints: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-71FJTmI1Q1kjSDLP0EegMERjg_0kk_7UfaRE4r66Mg/preview

1 Billings Gazette
2 Helena IR
4 Billings Gazette
5 Bozeman Daily Chronicle
6 Bozeman Daily Chronicle
7 Bozeman Daily Chronicle

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