Turning Old Masks Into 3D Printer Filament

Disposable masks have been a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for all the good they’ve done, their disposal represents a monumental ecological challenge that has largely been ignored in favor of more immediate concerns. What exactly are we supposed to do with the hundreds of billions of masks that are used once or twice and then thrown away?

If the research being conducted at the University of Bristol’s Design and Manufacturing Futures Lab is any indication, at least some of those masks might get a second chance at life as a 3D printed object. Noting that the ubiquitous blue disposable mask is made up largely of polypropylene and not paper as most of us would assume, the team set out to determine if they could process the masks in such a way that they would end up with a filament that could be run through a standard 3D printer. While there’s still some fine tuning to be done, the results so far are exceptionally impressive; especially as it seems the technique is well within the means of the hobbyist.

From masks to usable filament.

The first step in the process, beyond removing the elastic ear straps and any metal strip that might be in the nose, is to heat a stack of masks between two pieces of non-stick paper with a conventional iron. This causes the masks to melt together, and turn into a solid mass that’s much easier to work with. These congealed masks were then put through a consumer-grade blender to produce the fine polypropylene granules that’re suitable for extrusion.

Mounted vertically, the open source Filastruder takes a hopper-full of polypropylene and extrudes it into a 1.75 mm filament. Or at least, that’s the idea. The team notes that the first test run of filament only had an average diameter of 1.5 mm, so they’re modifying the nozzle and developing a more powerful feed mechanism to get closer to the goal diameter. Even still, by cranking up the extrusion multiplier in the slicing software, the team was able to successfully print objects using the thin polypropylene filament.

This is only-during-a-pandemic recycling, and we’re very excited to see this concept developed further. The team notes that the extrusion temperature of 260 °C (500 °F) is far beyond what’s necessary to kill the COVID-19 virus, though if you planned on attempting this with used masks, we’d imagine they would need to be washed regardless. If the hacker and maker community were able to use their 3D printers to churn out personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early days of the pandemic, it seems only fitting that some of it could now be ground up and printed into something new.

Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Making A Mask Of Your Very Own

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued along its way through the world, our community has responded as it always does, by designing and making things intended to solve the problems thrown up by the situation we find ourselves in. Much of this effort has gone into the production of PPE to plug the gap and many essential staff have been protected by maker-provided equipment, while the remainder of the effort has produced a wide array of clever designs for COVID-related items.

With curves flattened in many areas, Governments around the world are now encouraging the wearing of face masks in everyday social interactions. The purpose of mask for the general public is for droplet catching rather than virus filtering, and home made masks easily accomplish this. So let’s take a look at what you need to know about making a mast of your very own.

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Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Peering Behind The Mask

We’re now several months into the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with most parts of the world falling somewhere on the lockdown/social distancing/opening up path.

It’s fair to say now that while the medical emergency has not passed, the level of knowledge about it has changed significantly. When communities were fighting to slow the initial spead, the focus was on solving the problem of medical protection gear and other equipment shortages at all costs with some interesting yet possibly hazardous solutions. Now the focus has moved towards protecting the general public when they do need to venture out, and as society learns to get life moving again with safety measures in place.

So, we all need masks of some sort. What type to do you need? Is one type better than another? And how do we all get them when everyone suddenly needs what was once a somewhat niche item?

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LED Matrix Mask Will Scare Up Holiday Cheer

[Davide] sent us this fun LED matrix mask he built using an ATMega8 and 74LS595N shift registers. Each of the eyes is an 8×8 LED matrix, and the mouth is made from two 8x8s. [Davide] used a ULN2803A Darlington transistor array to drive the matrices.

When the user steps behind the mask, an IR sensor detects that a face is within range and activates the facial features. The code randomly runs the eye and mouth patterns. If the user starts speaking, a microphone element detects his voice and a separate speaking mouth pattern is executed.

The mask body and stand are découpaged with pages from Dylan Dog comics. [Davide] says he built the mask years ago, but decided to submit it to the 2013 Inverart Art Fair in Milan. As you can probably imagine, the mask has been a big hit with the kids so far. Stick around to see [Davide]’s Santa-fied demonstration after the jump. [Davide] didn’t give us any details on that sweet hat, unfortunately.

If you require a better degree of protection or more LEDs, check out this LED helmet.

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