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352d SOAMXS Support Section engineer 3D-printed face masks

U.S. Air Force airmen assigned to the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall, England, operate a 3D printer in order to create plastic masks April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The masks are designed to protect wearers from COVID-19 and provide a seal and filtration system similar to those found in ‘N95’ designated respirators. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

U.S. Air Force airmen assigned to the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, based at RAF Mildenhall, England, operate a 3D printer in order to create plastic masks April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The masks are designed to protect wearers from COVID-19 and provide a seal and filtration system similar to those found in ‘N95’ designated respirators. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carl Martin, support technician assigned to the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, creates mask kits, April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. Designed to protect wearers from COVID-19, the masks must be assembled after they are printed, a process that involves using warm water to shape the mask to the face. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carl Martin, support technician assigned to the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, creates mask kits, April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. Designed to protect wearers from COVID-19, the masks must be assembled after they are printed, a process that involves using warm water to shape the mask to the face. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Newly printed face masks and related materials necessary for their use sit on a table inside the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The masks can be worn to fight the spread of COVID-19 and are made out of 3D printing plastics that can be disinfected with a bleach solution or sanitizing wipes. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Newly printed face masks and related materials necessary for their use sit on a table inside the 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 352d Special Operations Wing, April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. The masks can be worn to fight the spread of COVID-19 and are made out of 3D printing plastics that can be disinfected with a bleach solution or sanitizing wipes. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

From left to right, U.S. Air Force’s Senior Airman Carl Martin, 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technician, and Staff Sgt. Alex Bruce, 352d SOAMXS MC-130J equipment custodian, stand in front of the 3D printers they use to construct plastic masks, April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. Bruce and Martin have produced more than 100 masks for squadron members in the past month, following DoD health guidelines on the use of cloth face coverings by using 3D printers to engineer face masks in an effort to combat the spread of Coronavirus. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

From left to right, U.S. Air Force’s Senior Airman Carl Martin, 352d Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technician, and Staff Sgt. Alex Bruce, 352d SOAMXS MC-130J equipment custodian, stand in front of the 3D printers they use to construct plastic masks, April 27, 2020, at RAF Mildenhall, England. Bruce and Martin have produced more than 100 masks for squadron members in the past month, following DoD health guidelines on the use of cloth face coverings by using 3D printers to engineer face masks in an effort to combat the spread of Coronavirus. The 352d Special Operations Wing is the sole Air Force special operations unit in the European Theater. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

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.