SASKATOON -- A University of Saskatchewan engineering team is using 3D printers to design a comfortable, reusable and sanitizable N95 class respirator mask.

“We’re trying to make the masks out of the most commonly available materials for 3D printing, so anyone with a 3D printer should be able to produce this easily,” engineering graduate student Erik Olson said in a news release.

The masks are meant to protect emergency room doctors and nurses from COVID-19 in the midst of a global shortage of medical-grade masks. N95 respirator masks are designed to filter at least 95 per cent of airborne particles, the university says.

They are standard protective equipment in hospitals around the world, which puts them in high demand and in short supply.

The team’s prototype design includes replaceable filter inserts. Before the mask can be used in a hospital, a medical device license from Health Canada and the Saskatchewan Health Authority will be needed. This process would likely take more than a month, according to the release.

Once a final design is approved, the university could produce up to 60 masks per day.

The team is also printing and testing the “Montana Mask,” another 3D-printed mask design recently developed in Montana. That mask has already undergone preliminary testing with staff at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital, with positive results, according to the release. This mask design would also require Health Canada approval.

The university says engineering students and staff are also involved in developing, prototyping and testing three other protective shielding products:

  • A transparent plastic box to separate COVID-19 patients from health care workers, based on designs shared by engineers in Taiwan and improved upon by University of British Columbia researchers.
  • A flexible plastic drapery to cover patients and shield health care workers, based on specific design requirements from Saskatoon physicians.
  • A full-length plastic face shield being created by Wave of the Future, a Saskatoon-based 3D printing business.