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April 13, 2020 | Tom Ballard

Justin Nussbaum teams with two others to develop 3D printable face mask

Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s “Innovation Crossroads” (IC) initiative recruits some of the nation’s most creative people who want to solve vexing national problems, and one of the participants in the soon-to-graduate Cohort 2 of the program has joined with two other individuals to address a critical COVID-19 issue.

Justin Nussbaum, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ascend Manufacturing, teamed-up with Tito Melega, a former Chief Creative Officer for Ford Motor Company’s dedicated global agency who resides in California, and Amine Arezki, a Product Strategy and Autonomous Systems Specialist living in Germany, to launch A Mask for All.

As the name implies, the collaborative effort that started less than a month ago has two purposes – to provide an alternative source of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers who do not have other options and also allow individuals a way to supply their own PPE needs. The enabler, in both cases, is 3D printing.

“It was an idea that Tito first suggested,” Nussbaum told us late last week. Melega is on the Board of Advisors of Nussbaum’s start-up that designs and fabricates novel industrial additive manufacturing equipment. That sector, frequently referred to as 3D printing, has been in the forefront of news reports lately as colleges and universities have used their printers to produce face shields to meet the urgent need for that type of PPE.

The three-person team – Nussbaum works from his home in West Knoxville – has produced more than two dozen iterations of their product, something around one a day. After each version was finalized, a limited 3D-printed production run was made and tested followed by more improvements.

“With the three of us being in different time zones, one of us was literally working on it at any time,” Nussbaum said. “We wanted to create something that was reusable and anyone with a 3D printer at home could make.”

The result of their efforts is a mask that has been designed to be efficient, ergonomic and easily printable on any 3D printer. As described in this PDF (A Mask For All Updated) and shown in the picture at left, the mask features a radical modern design that incorporates an innovative filter pod offering the flexibility to utilize filter materials – think cotton tee shirt, tissues, toilet paper or higher quality filters such as sectioned surgical masks or air filters – found in most homes.

The latest version comes in three sizes to fit any face (shown at right on Arezki’s face), and Nussbaum adds that “you can dip it in boiling water and then mold it to your nose for a comfortable and snug fit.”

Because the design and other specifications are open source, individuals with a 3D printer can download everything they need to get started here. And, while the mask is listed on the National Institutes of Health website, Melega emphasizes that “we have not conducted any medical testing. Without these tests, we can’t guarantee the effectiveness of this mask.”

That said, the team also notes that having some protection is better than nothing, and that fact is most likely reflected in the fact that there have already been more than 1,000 downloads of the specifications.

“We have all put a lot of money and effort into this,” he said. They did it as a way to help in a time of global challenge and to have an alternative to meet the needs of individuals as well as healthcare workers who might not have another way to secure a mask. It is not a money-making play for them. Instead, they have a three-part call to action.

  • They are encouraging healthcare providers to let them know their needs for face masks, either a special type or 3D-printed ones, and they will seek to help make a match with someone who can help.
  • They are encouraging individuals to download the specs and print masks for themselves and, if they are so inclined, for others including healthcare providers. Those who are interested in being part of a growing supplier base for 3D-printed masks are asked to let the A Mask for All team know of their willingness to help.
  • Finally, they are accepting donations of materials or cash that will be used to procure needed materials to 3D-print masks for healthcare workers.

“We already have three parties who are assisting in manufacturing the masks on a larger scale,” Nussbaum says. Not surprising, one of them is the University of South Florida, his alma mater.

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