Dubai company 3D-prints masks to help fight Covid-19

Costing only Dh10-15, these masks are made from a special polymer that repels viruses and bacteria

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A Dubai company is using 3D printers to manufacture low-cost face shields to help medics and food production workers across the country.

Immensa Technology Labs factories in Sharjah and Dubai have increased production from only a few hundred masks to more than 40,000 to keep up with demand.

The sale of face masks soared in the UAE after the government said they should be worn at all times outside the home.

Costing only Dh10-15, one such mask can be produced in about 20-30 minutes.

The company in Dubai Production City is also exporting to the United States as the country reports a huge shortage of face masks.

Larger 3D printing machines can increase production to about 500 every hour.

“We are certainly in demand, but I’m not sure if it is a good thing to be popular in these difficult times,” said Fahmi Al Shawwa, the company’s chief executive.

“The face shields are a very basic product that have been used in the medical sector for some time.

“We saw there was a shortage of masks and realised some people were taking advantage of this by putting prices up, so we wanted to help.”

How effective a mask is can vary considerably. Some allow you to breathe without inhaling germs, while basic models simply stop you from sneezing or coughing from others. Roy Cooper / The National

Immensa is an engineering company that usually focuses on spare parts for the oil and gas industry or converts warehouses into digital operations capable of 3D printing components.

The company is now producing the materials and mask in partnership with Precise 3DHub, a printing company in Dubai Investments Park.

The masks are a printed face shield, connected to a headband.

They are made from a special polymer that repels viruses and bacteria, so are perfect for use in clinically controlled settings.

As Covid-19 can survive more than 72 hours on a surface, transmission time is a major issue when trying to control its spread.

The Plactive material used contains copper nanoparticles that make the virus dysfunctional within minutes.

Some models are sterilised especially for the health sector, while others are manufactured to withstand 120°C.

The wholesale price for a similar mask is usually only Dh15, but retailers have increased it by seven times as the demand grows, according to Mr Al Shawwa, who is Palestinian.

“The Emirates Food industry has been buying a lot from us to protect their workers,” he said.

“I meet people and offer it to them for free.

“I was at Du customer services and some of the guys were not wearing masks so I went to my car and gave them five to use.

“They cost nothing, and we share everything we are doing – the materials and how it is done so others can do the same if they want.”

Demand for face shields along with N95-masks and other personal protective equipment has gone up globally.

That has prompted companies like Immensa Technology Labs to step in to support doctors, nurses and first responders, who are exposed to the virus.

Face shields help protect frontline workers.