Flimmaker uses 3D printers to make masks for medics

A Cayman Islands filmmaker is using cutting-edge 3D printers to create masks and other personal protective gear for medics on the frontline of the coronavirus fight.

Michael Maes has produced prototypes of face-protection masks – similar to medical grade N95 masks – using hi-tech printers in his home workshop. The masks can be sterilized and reused.

Maes, who is an underwater filmmaker, has specialised machines he uses to build protective housings and accessories for his cinema cameras.

Michael Maes is using 3D printers to manufacture protective masks and other equipment for medics. He uses plastic bottles to create clear shield visors to attach to the head set.

He has also produced a prototype of an adaptor for a scuba mask based on a design by Italian research institute Isinnova.

The adaptor can be fitted to a full-face scuba mask to convert it into a medical mask that could be used to ventilate a patient with breathing difficulties.

More urgently, he is developing a different adaptor that could allow EMT teams to utilise modified full-face scuba masks as protective gear.

A prototype adaptor to convert scuba masks for medics.

His products, which he hopes to make available at no cost to the medical community, differ from other homemade masks in that they are produced with laser-precision tools. Some of his first masks are being provided to workers at the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre.

“I’m focussing on face-protection mask for health caretakers for now,” he said.

From his home, he said he can only produce around three each day. But if he is granted essential-worker status to get to and from his larger workshop in George Town, he believes he will be able to make around five times that number.

He said the desperation of the crisis had prompted many manufacturers to publish the specs for their products online and he is able to produce similar-quality equipment.

“The advantage of this is we can make something very similar to the N95 mask,” he added.

Maes said converting full-face scuba masks to ventilator masks was also possible. He acknowledged these would not be the first go-to option for a well-resourced hospital. But if Cayman is hit, as other countries have been, by a significant outbreak that stretches the infrastructure of health services, he believes they could be a good option.

“If we have run through the stock of official medical products and the only option is to try this or to just let the patient die, then it is something we could try.”

Dr. Yaron Rado, of CTMH Doctors Hospital, said the capacity to create medical products on island, could be a huge advantage if the situation escalated as it had in other countries.

Maes plugs designs into the printer and it builds the masks.

“In a normal situation none of these would be usable in a first-world hospital. And for as long that we have our normal N95 masks, ventilator and CPAP masks available we would never touch them,” Rado said.

“But the danger of this crisis, as we see developing, for example in New York, is that even the first world is getting pushed to do things that are below our standard.

“And if you can save a life with a not-tested, not-certified device versus losing a patient, the answer is simple.”

Rado added that getting products certified for medical use takes a long time, but across the world the limits are now being pushed in an effort to save lives.

Maes said he would like to be producing as many as possible now, while the virus is sill relatively contained in Cayman, so they were ready and available, if needed.

Finished product – the printer manufactures an adaptor. – All photos courtesy of Michael Maes

Cayman has ordered a large batch of personal protective equipment, which is due to arrive on the BA flight from the UK today (Monday).

These include 10,000 N95 masks, 600 surgical masks and 2,500 eye-protection visors.

If you value our service, if you have turned to us in the past few days or weeks for verified, factual updates, if you have watched our live streaming of press conferences or sent an article to a friend... please consider a donation. Quality local journalism was at risk before the coronavirus crisis. It is now deeply threatened. Even a small amount can go a long way to sustaining our mission of informing the public. We need our readers’ financial support now more than ever.