Mack Helps Convert Snorkeling Mask into Much-Needed PPE
A former employee connection, the need for a tight turnaround and a desire to use existing filtration—how Mack Molding’s Synectic redesigned a snorkeling mask into Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Kevin Dailey, vice president of administration/CHRO at Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC), knew his hospital had a pressing need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak; he also had a pretty good idea of a manufacturer that could help.
Only five years prior, Dailey had headed up human resources at contract manufacturer Mack Molding—an injection molder focused on the medical market where he was employed for more than two decades. Dailey reached out to Adam Lehman, president of Mack’s Woodbridge, Conn., subsidiary, Synectic, to see if there was a quick solution to the hospital’s imminent shortage of N95s masks and 7700 respirators.
Mack Molding subsidiary Synectic redesigned a snorkeling mask to function as a reusable mask for frontline healthcare workers, eliminating the need for hard-to-find N95 respirators.
Synectic, a product design and development company, which has been around for 40 years, was acquired by Mack six years ago and at this point is vertically integrated into the contract manufacturer, according to Lehman.
Lehman told Plastics Technology that Dailey and SVHC had two asks in their initial outreach to Synectic: they quickly needed something that could provide full face protection, with delivery in just weeks, and they wanted to be able to use some existing filtration. Within four weeks, Lehman said Synectic was able to realize two concepts, finalizing one and ultimately manufacturing 500 face mask units based off a snorkeling mask design, as well as making 2000 replacement filter cartridges.
To satisfy the fast turnaround, Synectic 3D printed the required components. In its design, the snorkel mask has an adapter with two one-way valves and two threaded connectors, as well as a top and bottom half for the filter cartridge. Synectic prints five parts for the assembly, using off-the-shelf valves and HVAC filter material for the cartridges. The components are made and assembled at Synectic’s facility.
“At Synectic, we design, develop and offer small-volume manufacturing,” Lehman said, “so this was right up our alley.” While a project like this would normally take up to 6 months, Synectic delivered finished masks to SVHC in just weeks. Lehman said four decades in medical helped it to understand what materials, adhesives, and good manufacturing processes would satisfy the job’s requirements. Part of the speed is due to the fact that the masks are not NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) certified or FDA approved. “These are just meant as a stopgap for a hospital if they can’t find N95,” Lehman said. Synectic did its own thorough testing of the masks, making sure they had a sound fit and provided good air flow, they just skipped weeks of NIOSH certification and months of FDA approval to make sure the product could help the hospital as soon as possible.
After only two weeks of design, testing, and manufacturing, Mack’s team at Synectic fabricated an attachment to a snorkeling scuba mask. The mask covers the entire face, eliminating the need for disposable masks and shields. The design removed the part of the mask that usually protrudes out of the water when snorkeling, replacing it with a custom-designed branched component that’s equipped with cartridges containing P100 HEPA filters.
Each SVHC staff member is fit tested to ensure an adequate seal and assigned a mask. They are then given cleaning and storage guidelines on how to disinfect and store their mask after each shift. The snorkeling branch modification and P100 HEPA filter casings can be removed for cleaning and screwed securely back in place. Before each use, staff conduct a positive and negative pressure test to ensure the masks are holding up for their protection. Mack notes that the fact that the air intake is above the medical worker’s head both improves the wearer’s line of sight while also allowing patients to see their physicians’ and nurses’ faces.
Word of the highly effective masks made the rounds, according to Lehman. “Ever since the press release, we have been contacted by seven to eight hospitals and a number of different doctor groups, interested in the masks,” Lehman said. “We’re looking at that right now to see what people need but we’re definitely open to doing that.”
Forgoing the exhaustive certification process which typically slows development of medical related products was only a part of Synectic’s ability to quickly turn around this job.
“A lot of that timeline was people working day and night,” Lehman said. “Also, when you look at the concept phase, it’s not five or six concepts; we looked at one or two.” Finally printing the components versus molding them meant the company had parts in days vs. weeks.
In addition to interest and praise from hospital administrators, Lehman said Mack and Synectic received some very important feedback on the mask. “A frontline healthcare worker’s mother actually reached out to us,” Lehman said, “and told us how much the mask meant to her.”
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