3D laser scanning accelerates PPE mask production for COVID-19 pandemic

Two recent PPE-related projects completed by NVision, Inc. demonstrate the growing role that non-contact scanning/measurement technologies are taking in the race to create new products and designs to minimize exposure to COVID-19.

By Steve Glad May 13, 2020

NVision, Inc., a 3D measurement and engineering services company provided engineering services to a Texas PPE manufacturer, helping accelerate the company’s production of a protective mask earmarked for medical personnel. NVision engineers 3D-scanned plaster models of the mask, using the resulting data to create a computer-aided design (CAD) file which was used to build the special tooling necessary for production.

Personal protection equipment (PPE) includes clothing–gloves, coveralls, face shields, masks, and more–designed to protect the wearer against a number of potential hazards including viruses and infectious diseases. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, masks are a vitally important line of defense against the virus for healthcare workers, first responders and the general public.

NVision was contacted by a PPE manufacturer that needed a CAD model of a protective mask in three days in order to start creating the tooling for mass production. The company had only handmade plaster models of the mask; no previous computer models or designs existed.

“We had done work for this customer earlier on a Peterbilt Truck Project and they came to us with the mask project,” said Steve Kersen, president of NVision. “The plaster molds for the mask had extremely challenging contours and to hand-measure its complex curvatures using calipers and other tools would have taken the manufacturer months, postponing production significantly.”

The mask will be made of vacuum-formed plastic and consists of two parts–an inner and an outer part–with replaceable filter material. CAD models were required to facilitate the machining of suitable dies/molds, as the vacuum-forming process requires dies made from a more durable material, often wood or a metal.

After receiving the plaster models, NVision technicians used the company’s handheld laser scanner to collect data on the mask’s surface geometry and dimensions.

The scanning of the mask models took only two hours, after which NVision technicians converted the STL file to a native parametric CAD format from which tooling could be produced. “During the modeling process we were also able to make some changes that improved the mask’s design,” Kersen said. “We made it more symmetrical in shape and modified it to be more suitable for the manufacturing process.”

NVision engineers provided the mask manufacturer with a CAD model from which it could build the tooling to begin production and meet its deadline for delivery of the masks. “Without the fast and accurate measurements provided by laser scanning, the customer would have lost a great deal of time and money in performing manual measurements,” Kersen said. “With PPE, time to market is critical both for the health of those people waiting for masks as well as the business success of the manufacturers who need to reduce production time.”

In another project, NVision was asked to scan a series of credit card readers in order to create seamlessly fitting safety covers to prevent transmission of viruses. The covers needed to fit on the readers, so it was essential to obtain the exact measurements of the readers.

NVision used its scanner to obtain the precise measurements of the readers, first converting the point cloud to a raw STL file, then importing the file into specialized modeling software and processing the data to an IGES/STEP model, and then further processing to a native CAD model with full feature tree. From that point, client engineers were able to use the CAD model to create tooling for manufacturing the covers.

“Concerns about personal health and safety, in all our interactions, are understandably very high at this time,” Kersen said. “These two projects we recently completed show how advanced measurement and inspection can substantially reduce the time to market for those who are  making the products needed to help ensure our health and well-being. We’re proud to be part of the effort.”

Author Bio: Steve Glad, Structured Information