Addressing barriers to reusability of shortaged N95 respirators.
Pictured is our final prototype and how it can be attached to a damaged N95 respirator.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic procedural changes within all hospital environments; one being that healthcare workers must don N95 respirators continuously during their 10 hour shift. Due to the corresponding respirator shortage, they also are required to reuse the same respirator for multiple shifts in a row. This change in use case from the original design has caused the respirator to fail in multiple ways; specifically in its durability and long-term comfort. We’ve created a solution that consists of adjustable, replacement straps that are compatible with the array of N95 respirators currently on the market. The design ultimately aims to increase durability and usability of traditional N95 respirators. For our design we tested several different strap materials including a fabric strap, elastomeric strap, and hybrid fabric with embedded elastic components to compare against the original N95 design. Ultimately, the fabric elastomeric strap maintained its original length and strength the best; which led to us to choose this material for our strap design. The next round of testing focused on improving the attachment strength where the strap met the N95 respirator, as this was a major weak point and common location for strap failure. We worked through a few different attachment methods including a metal button fastener and a double sided tape adhesive. However, both of these materials failed to hold when compared to the original attachment strength of current N95 respirators. We eventually decided on a polyurethane adhesive which improved the attachment strength by more than 50% and allowed for easy application from the user to attach to the respirator. Our final prototype consists of 3D printed PLA clasp attachments and achieves a comfortable and easy-to-use design to allow for user adjustability in a clinical setting.
Dr. Christopher Rolfes, PhD (left) & John Tipton (right)