Steve Steffes did not really need another project before the project engineer for Certainteed LLC of McPherson retires in July. He’s earned 45 patents in his career.
But one last project, one that he will not earn a patent for, found him.
Creating a way to make thousands of medical masks to ship to company employees nationwide, and, when that is complete, to first responders.
“This is my last project, and this is a nice project to end on,” Steffes said. “... This is something different for me to work on. It is a health and life project.“
The mask, which will be made using an injection mold project, might look familiar. Steffes used an open source design called the “Montana Mask,” the same design in use by Bethany College’s Art and Digital Media Department using 3D printer — like many other projects across the nation.
However, Steffes did a little work with the design to make use of injection molding equipment and materials at the Saint-Gobain facility in McPherson. While 3-D printing projects are limited to a few masks a day, the injection molding process can produce more.
“Our maximum output, if we could run 24 hours a day, would be 3,000 per day,” Steffes said. “...We can do one mask and assembly every 30 to 35 seconds.’
Saint-Gobain produces siding., but in recent weeks has begun projects to produce medical protective equipment. A project to produce face shields was launched by employees in McPherson last week.
Steffes started working on the breathing masks a couple of weeks ago — and the company supplying the mold responded with a free mold (originally quoting a cost of $40,000) and getting that mold to McPherson in about two and a half weeks. Steffes said that is “record time.”
Right now the company is looking at what raw materials to use for the creation of the masks — shipping samples to employees to try on. Two different materials are being tested, both FDA approved.
“We are making samples of each, and sending those out to employees to the company to see what they like the best. There is an opportunity we will offer both,” Steffes said.
The plan is to produce the masks, which feature a changeable filter and can be washed in a dishwasher, for employees and their families. The company employs and estimates 13,000 employees. A facility on the east coast will be joining the mask-making project as well.
“We will offer filter media as well from our life science division,” Steffes said.
Once employees and families have a Montana Mask, making the PPE available to others is on the to do list.
“We will likely make this available to first responders in the community. That has not been decided yet,” Steffes said.