22 Jul 2020
Public-Private Collaboration to boost local mask production
Researchers at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) have found a way to make reusable face masks that have the merits of disposable surgical masks, yet are washable like cloth masks. Collaborating with local textile and apparel manufacturer Ramatex, which has deep knowledge in fabrics, the production of these reusable masks is actualised to ramp up local mask availability and ease demand for surgical masks.
Ramatex began production of these reusable masks in Singapore in April 2020, further contributing to national efforts to combat the transmission of COVID-19. The repurposing of Ramatex’s materials and resources will help boost local mask availability during this period of high global demand for masks.
The collaboration also leveraged the expertise of A*STAR’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) and Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in testing the performance of the mask.
Use and Design
After each use, this reusable mask can be hand washed with mild detergent and fully air-dried. This can be done up to 30 times while maintaining its integrity. Tests conducted by testing house TÜV SÜD on the prototype showed that this reusable mask’s bacterial filtration efficiency (BFE) is 98.5% (when new), and remains close to 95% after 30 washes. It also maintains the fluid repellent properties of its outer layer after 30 washes. The A*STAR and Ramatex team have optimised the mask’s breathability to be comparable with medical masks.
The reusable mask employs a duck beak design that not only provides good facial coverage but also reduces the components needed, such as the metal nose bridge typically found in disposable masks. The inner and outer layers are made from materials that Ramatex has developed, while the middle filter layer is acquired from overseas and reinforced with Ramatex’s fabric material. During washing, the inner and outer layers protect the middle reinforced filter layer to preserve its integrity and filtration properties. Furthermore, the team was able to make each layer one seamless piece instead of having two pieces sewn together, providing additional protection.
A*STAR has deep capabilities in manufacturing and a strong culture of innovation, and we are glad to work with them again, this time to make reusable face masks for the community in Singapore. An added benefit is that it has created new jobs in this challenging period
Mr Chris Ma, Director, Ramatex
The team took less than a month to develop the new mask. To ensure a sustainable supply of raw materials, A*STAR researchers collaborated with Ramatex in material selection. Together, they actualised a breathable and reusable mask that can be washed multiple times while retaining high bacteria filtration efficiency.
The team is motivated to develop the reusable masks to relieve the demand of surgical masks and prioritise surgical masks for the healthcare workers. At the same time, reusable mask provides a more environmentally sustainable option as compared to disposable masks which are designed for one-time use only.