RAF Mildenhall, England --
Two Airmen from the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall, England, took initiative when the DoD mandated the wearing of face masks and started using 3D printers to engineer face masks in an effort to combat the spread of Coronavirus.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alex Bruce, a SOAMXS equipment custodian for the MC-130J Commando II and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carl Martin, a SOAMXS support technician have produced more than 100 masks for their squadron in the past month.
“I am constantly impressed by our airmen and their constant search for innovative solutions,” said Col. Michelle Estes, 352d Special Operations Maintenance Group commander. “This is just one example of how we empower our force to keep our force fit to fight through all contingencies.”
“The first week was a lot of trial and error to try and get not only the model tweaked just right, but also all of the settings on the printers,” Bruce said. “Once we hit our stride, we’ve been cranking them out.”
The masks are made from plastics commonly used in 3D printing and provide an additional layer of protection.
“The design of the mask has a seal, whereas the cloth mask doesn’t,” Martin said. “The nonwoven fabric we used for the filtration system works well and is a better alternative than the face cloth.”
Bruce and Martin initially found the mask blueprint online, from which they downloaded it and started refining for their needs. One of the model’s advantages is the variety of filter materials which can be used.
“The beauty of the design is that you can change out the filter medium that is in them,” Bruce said. “You can use pieces of t-shirt material to give you a cloth mask and meet that requirement, or you can put better filter material in.”
Bruce and Martin’s initial motivation for building 3D printed masks was to provide a more effective form of protection to the Airmen in their office.
“As the support section, our job is to check tools in and out to the flight-line maintainers. This requires our people to be in close contact with Airmen pretty much all day,” Bruce said. “We wanted to make sure our people had the best protection we could get for them. As our production capability ramped up, our scope has since expanded to try and outfit as much of the squadron as we can.”
The team attributes their success to the squadron’s innovation program, which provided the section’s 3D printers.
“The long-running innovation program that we have is really what positioned us to be able to jump into this when the need arose,” Bruce said.