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Moody Air Force Base airman starts 3D-printing medical masks

A 3D printer creates a prototype N95 face mask at the Louis F Garland Department of Defense Fire Academy on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, March 31, 2020. This is the medical regulation/grade personal protective equipment that is used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Robyn Hunsinger)

Boredom can fuel inspiration.

In Matt Garner’s case, he spent his time reading stories of people in New York City using 3-D printers to make protective masks for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients.

He had a revelation in the midst of his ennui.

“Wait, I’ve got a 3-D printer now. I can do that,” Garner said.

The 28-year-old staff sergeant at Moody Air Force Base went on the National Institute of Health website and found an NIH-approved design to start printing medical masks.

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Only able to print three to four masks a day, he started a GoFundMe website to make and donate more masks.

Garner is new to the 3-D printing game.

Normally, he spends his free time repairing electronics that friends drop off, but with social distancing, repairs dwindled.

His free time expanded dramatically when the base shutdown. A member of command support staff, Garner was deemed as non-essential staff for base operations which freed up his days for the foreseeable future.

So during this down time, he spent a couple hundred bucks and ordered a 3-D printer.

Each mask requires five hours to print, so Garner can manufacture 3-4 masks daily, depending on how late he can stay up.

His masks are not the N-95-design but what he calls “last resort N-95 replacement masks.”

The official design name is a Stopgap Surgical Face Mask or SFM, which is designed and approved by the NIH for use “in effort to protect people by providing backup PPE options if the standard PPE has become unavailable,” according to the website.

Until now, he has donated his masks to friends in nursing but wants to provide larger donations to hospitals around South Georgia and North Florida.

Garner has covered past printing costs by selling the occasional mask. The money from one sale (around $15) can make 10 more masks, he said.

But increasing production from three to four masks a day to 20-30 requires more money and supplies, particularly more 3-D printers.

“The main thing I need right now to fill more orders would be (3-D) printers. Anybody that’s got a (3-D) printer lying around,” he said. “They don’t even need to let me borrow it. They can just start printing (masks) and bring it to a collection point.”

Lengthy printing times pose the biggest challenge to increased production.

“If I could get more printers, I could actually approach the hospitals about donations,” he said.

Thus far, Garner’s masks have been given to nurses he knows, but he wants to start sending his SFM masks to hospitals in desperate need of protective supplies such as Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

“That’s what my goal is,” Garner said. “To produce enough (masks) to give some up there because not only are they in a lack of supply but this will be prolonged for a while.”

In the meantime, he will print as many masks – and now face shields – as time permits.

“I have a lot of time on my hands,” Garner said. “I want to make a difference with that time instead of binge-watching the ‘Tiger King’ or whatever it’s called.”

People interested in Garner’s mask project can visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/3d-print-masks-and-ppe-south-ganorth-covid19

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© 2020 The Valdosta Daily Times