With traditional N95 face masks still in short supply, Ford has stepped up to create an alternative. Designed by D-Ford, the company's internal "human-centered design group," the new face mask has an advantage over the incumbent design in that it's primarily see-through.
"The transparent, low-cost, reusable respirators enable a full range of human expression, allowing people to better communicate with each other and aiding those with hearing impairments to help read lips that are today blocked by conventional cloth and filtered masks," the company writes.
"This clear respirator promises to improve interactions between neighbors, at the store and for those who have hearing impairments," adds Jim Baumbick, Ford vice president, enterprise product line management and leader of Ford's Project Apollo personal protective equipment manufacturing effort.
Will Brick, design prototype lead at D-Ford, told Plastics News that the goal was to design something "easy to manufacture and very low cost so that it could relieve some of the pressure of the demand for the disposable types." As for what the transparent material and production methods are:
[Using a] food- and medical-grade thermoformed PET sheet allows the company to "rapidly produce a complex geometry for a flexible respirator body that would fit to the face," Brick said.
The PET also "has good clarity, it's very formable, tough, very resistant to cracking or splitting," he said. "Once it's formed, it has good mechanical properties that allow it to, working with its gasket and special shape of it, allow it to reliably fit and seal to a number of different face types."
The skin-safe silicone gasket forms an airtight seal, Brick said, which is "paramount" to its efficacy for both the wearer and people in the wearer's vicinity.
The company hopes to bring the mask into production by this spring.