SERDP Principal Investigators Manufacture Face Masks for Health Care Workers

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many scientists and researchers have dedicated their time and expertise to advance our understandings of the virus and provide essential resources to health care workers and the general public. SERDP Principal Investigators are among such volunteers who are pivoting to apply their technologies to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). 

At the University of Alabama, Dr. Paul Allison has helped lead an effort to manufacture 3D printed PPE as part of a partnership between the College of Engineering and the STEM Path to the MBA Program. The Cube, which is the makerspace for the College of Engineering, is capable of producing  over 1,000 face masks for local hospitals

Under SERDP, Dr. Allison is developing a transformative hybrid solid-state additive manufacturing process, Additive Friction Stir Deposition (AFS-Deposition), that recycles metal waste to manufacture and repair components at a forward operating base (FOB) ( Project Webpage). Two FOB waste streams provide chips and metal strips for AFS-Deposition. The project team is analyzing the influence of scrap metal waste on the microstructural evolution of solid-state additive manufactured components.

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When the University of Alabama set up shop to produce face masks, Dr. Allison reached out to another SERDP Principal Investigator, Dr. Prabhat Krishnaswamy, to collaborate on extra materials to use for the 3D printing machines. Dr. Krishnaswamy is working with SERDP on a similar  project to conduct applied research that will improve the development of an innovative agile manufacturing plant for onsite fabrication of recycled thermoplastic products at FOBs. The project focuses on using reclaimed PET (rPET) (polyethylene terephthalate) and PE (polyethylene), a significant portion of the plastic in FOB waste streams, to manufacture products. 

Dr. Krishnaswamy sent Dr. Allison’s team rPET materials to run on the machines that are creating various parts for the face masks. So far, the team has been able to print small hexagonal prisms with this material. They are also in the process of building a storage containment with desiccant to help keep the fiber safe from the humidity in Alabama, as the moisture in the filament makes the material more difficult to use for producing face masks. 

By advancing additive manufacturing processes, SERDP researchers are providing flexible and more viable means of manufacturing and repairing field components such as structures, vehicles and armor from recyclable materials. A single, solid-state additive manufacturing process eliminates the need to transport new equipment and the use of chemicals involved in other phase change metal recycling programs, which effectively reduces wait-times for critical components and environmental hazards. 

Although the global pandemic makes it a difficult time for collaboration, SERDP researchers have worked hard to put their technologies to good use and support one another in delivering essential supplies to health care workers. 

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