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TFHS teacher helps provide protective gear

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

By John Dowd, The Sanders County Ledger, 4/9/20

Courtesy photo PROTOTYPE - Eric Nygaard, a science teacher at Thompson Falls High School, models a mask that was printed with one of the school's 3-D printers.

"Innovation comes from many different places," said Eric Nygaard, a science teacher and robotics coach at Thompson Falls High School. "It's kind of full of these different little pieces of peoples brains coming together." He was talking about a new project for the high school 3-D printing lab in response to the coronavirus crisis. Nygaard has taken on the task of creating and 3-D printing N95 contamination masks to help bolster the local hospital and surrounding clinics' reserves of personal protection.

It all started after Nygaard saw an article on social media about a group in Billings who had developed these printed masks to help in their area. The masks are being referred to as the "Montana Masks." After looking at the blueprints, which were posted online by the group for others to use, Nygaard started playing with the design to make them more ergonomic and comfortable as well as more efficient to use. After this he sent it off to the hospital asking if they would be interested. Nygaard now dubs his variants the "County 35 Masks."

After some testing and playing with the design in coordination with the Clark Fork Valley Hospital, these new masks are set to produce on a larger scale of 18-20 masks a day, Nygaard said He started last Friday. On full churn, the school's three printers can each crank out about one mask an hour and can run for around 12 hours at a time without Nygaard being in to check on them. The ultimate goal is for the school to produce around 100 of these masks for the hospital. The masks will use filters made by the Sanders County Mask Makers, who have begun sewing the replaceable filters in preparation for the new N95s.

These N95 masks can filter .3 microns or larger, which should be plenty proficient to protect against viruses, which is why they are in such short supply, according to Nygaard. The nice things about these printed masks include that they can be custom shaped when heated in boiling water and can also use a regular N95 masks, cut into six pieces, as filters. These masks can use a number of things as filters additionally, in the event that they could be needed. The overall cost Nygaard has given to produce each mask is a little under two dollars apiece. Nygaard has also begun printing five different sizes, with added size labels, for added comfort and personalization of the masks for those who may use them. Along with this multiple sizing and size labeling, several other innovations have been added collectively by members of the community to create a unique variant of these masks for the county. From bungee cord locks for securing the fit to gasket seals developed by local Randy woods, these masks have come into their own.

For anyone else interested in printing their own masks, the website has templates and blueprints.

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