Wearing a face mask to prevent spreading COVID-19 and other contagious germs is highly recommended by health officials, but for those who have to wear one constantly all day, the strain an elastic puts on one’s ears can be agonizing.
So Matthew Dares put the Inuvik Robotics Club’s 3D printers to work on a solution — over 200 plastic “mask holders” that sit on the back of the head and hold the elastics in place.
“We’ve seen a lot of postings online about people wanting ear release and we’re certainly hearing it here in Inuvik as well — my wife’s a nurse,” said Dares, who printed the accessories over the April 9-13 weekend. “Anything that’s looping behind your ears, you can use these to take the pressure off the back of your ears. If you can imagine wearing a mask for 12-hours straight, that pressure point can get quite sore.
“I do believe they’re being worn by anyone who has access to them. They’re a real demand for them.”
Two varieties of holders, a smaller and a larger size, were printed to suit individual preferences. Roughly 50 were donated to Inuvik Hospital and the rest have been sent to Yellowknife to be distributed to health care facilities throughout the territory.
Dares estimated he was able to print up to 12 of the smaller holders or six of the larger ones in an hour, but production could be racked up to 200 a day if needed.
However, the mask-holders are only one of a handful of initiatives Dares and other members of the Arts, Crafts & Technology Micro-manufacturing Centre (ACTMC) are currently experimenting with to help in the fight against COVID-19.
Also in the works are specialized handle covers to allow people to open door handles without using their hands. A number of prototypes are currently being tested at Aurora college to ensure they’re up to the stress load.
“They’re an easy addition to a door that lets you open it with your forearm, with the idea that it removes something of a vector of a shared object,” said Dares. “We plan to make those available to anyone that wants them.”
Another project the ACTMC is working on is more in the “better to have it and not need it” vein of logic — materials are on order from B.C. to make face shields using the facility’s laser cutters if the need for them arises. Dares stressed that he was mainly trying to be prepared and was not planning to actually start producing them unless the situation were to call for it.
“In an emergency or a shortage, we will have the materials to be able to produce something that has been approved for use in other jurisdictions should it be needed,” he said. “We’re hoping not to manufacture any, but my hope is within the next few days we will have all the materials we need and be able to produce up to 500 if they were needed.
“With capacity in the north, as a contingency we want to make sure we can do as much as possible. But we’re not looking to manufacture face shields, we’re taking steps to make sure we can create the best-possible thing that could be needed, but it’s not something we’ve heard a demand for yet.”
He noted the face shields were the closest thing to personal protection equipment (P.P.E) that the makerspace could probably develop, but if residents had ideas for other helpful tools or objects that could be produced to get in touch with him at email@example.com.
Dares noted makerspaces were well suited to help fill gaps in these type accessories for healthcare.
“While we’re typically using our equipment to produce goods targeted at the arts, crafts and tourists market, but these are proper industrial manufacturing pieces of equipment that are used for these purposes anyway,” he said. “Just because we use our laser cutters to do engravings and wood signs and things, but they are the same laser cutters that are used for industrial processes elsewhere.
“So this is not an unexpected use of these machines, just not one we expected to use them for.”