Fraunhofer team announce manufacturing automation breakthrough for facemasks [VIDEO]


A Boston University-Fraunhofer collaboration has developed a new machine (see video below) able to produce 2,000 three-piece polypropylene facemasks an hour, and which is described as resembling an “old-fashioned printing press crossed with an assembly line.”

“[The machine] can be installed in small facilities, close to the point of use, or even at the point of use, [locations that could include] hospitals, army bases, companies, universities,” said Andre Sharon, a professor at BU’s college of engineering and director of the university’s Fraunhofer USA Center for Manufacturing Innovation.

 “The machine could be used on demand, similar to the way a copy machine is used. Every few days you go to the machine, punch in how many masks you’d like, and the machine produces them for you.”

A statement from Boston University said the masks are made of the same material as surgical-grade masks, though do not meet USA standards for surgical masks. They are claimed to be suitable as “general purpose masks.”

Possible benefits lie in supply chain security — particularly in regions with under-developed infrastructure — with many masks currently imported from China. 

The new device is reportedly able to do the job of multiple machines. It “welds ear loops to the mask in one seamless process,” a process for which a patent is being sought.

Fraunhofer is a world-renowned, German-based network of applied research centres. 

The Fraunhofer USA Center is unable to sell the machine directly, and Sharon said commercialisation options being explored were them building the machines for others, licensing the design or creating a startup.

Picture: Sharon (left) and lead engineer Holger Wirz, oversaw development of a mask-making machine that can produce 2,000 masks per hour (pictures by Cydney Scott)

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