At the University of Antwerp, twelve product developers are working day and night to develop oral masks. "Together with industrial partners, we try to set up an emergency production for protective equipment for health workers during this corona crisis".
Prof. Erika Vlieghe (UZA / UAntwerp) raised the alarm at the beginning of March and reported that we were heading for a large shortage of mouth masks in Belgium. She hoped to draw on the expertise of the university to develop alternatives to the advanced FFP2 and FFP3 mouth masks domestically. The product development course took up the challenge. Professors Jouke Verlinden, Regan Watts and Stijn Verwulgen founded the Antwerp Design Factory together with several doctoral students.
"We started with an extensive brainstorm," says Stijn Verwulgen. “Then we started experimenting with HEPA filters, 3D printers and laser cutters. During the process, our team came up with some unique solutions, especially for the valve to exhale. That is how we came to a prototype, which is currently being extensively tested, with the support of the people of the UZA, epidemiologists and microbiologists. We are working hard on a plan for emergency production.”
10,000 masks per week
The product developers are working closely with the companies Novosanis (a spin-off from UAntwerp) and Voxdale, and also consulting with Voka on an ongoing basis. "Our team is working on the project seven days a week, with the full support of the top of the university," said Jouke Verlinden. “But we can also count on a lot of external help. For example, we sat with the companies on a Sunday to review the action plan and were also able to use their services free of charge.”
Naturally, the mouth masks must meet many criteria. Regan Watts: “That is why we are also in contact with the cabinet of Minister De Block and the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products. If necessary, we want to aim for a production capacity of 10,000 masks per week.”
This article was originally published in Dutch in HLN on 19 March 2020.
Header image: mouth masks (courtesy of UAntwerpen).