MaskForce

By Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

There's a lot to be gained when an organization is willing to step up in a time of need and make a real difference in its local community. 

AEM member company Husco did just that, leading a consortium in its efforts to design, develop and produce a reusable face mask for use by healthcare professionals in southeastern Wisconsin.  

“You really see how proud people are to be part of something – and that spans all ages and all demographics. We’re proud to be able to foster an environment that enables that,” said Simon Yardley, director of strategic business development and marketing for the Waukesha, Wisconsin-based manufacturer of high performance hydraulic and electro-mechanical components.

The opportunity arose during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when a Husco VP witnessed a neighbor who works as a doctor traveling door-to-door and soliciting donations for n95 masks. 

“He wanted to distribute them at the hospital,” said Yardley. “If a doctor needs to go door-to-door to collect these, then there’s a serious problem.”

For more information and resources on COVID-19, visit the COVID-19 section on the AEM website

In looking into the issue further, Husco officials came across several other like-minded individuals looking to address the local shortage of personal protective equipment. From there, the company helped establish a consortium  – eventually known as MaskForce  – to take on the challenge of creating a reusable face mask. 

The end result of the consortium’s efforts was a mask that could be sanitized and reused – unlike most other offerings, which are discarded after a single use. Comprised of medical-grade silicon and polypropylene, the MaskForce product is soft and comfortable, and it provides a low-pressure facial seal. Prior to finalizing the production design, the MaskForce team tested hundreds of materials and worked in conjunction with several university labs, medical professionals and first responders.

It's been only a little more than four weeks since the initiative first came about, and already an initial production run of 30,000 masks is under way at the Husco headquarters. Some have already made their way into the hands of Milwaukee-area first responders. And, according to Yardley, things are just getting started. About 1,000 masks are being produced daily, but the consortium is working to ramp up capabilities to eventually make more than 10,000 per day in an effort to keep pace with national demand.

“Among our core values is practical innovation, which drives us to consistently and creatively push the boundary of what’s possible to create immediate value,” said Austin Ramirez, chief executive officer of Husco. “MaskForce is both an example of American manufacturing ingenuity and the good that can be accomplished when multiple stakeholders collaborate to serve the community. I am grateful to all the MaskForce collaborators for their time, expertise, and goodwill.”

The mask is priced close to cost, with any profits made by Husco in 2020 set to be reinvested back into the community. In addition to accelerating production of the current model, a smaller form-factor mask is under development.

The MaskForce face mask is also temporarily authorized pursuant to an FDA emergency use authorization and is actively pursuing NIOSH n95 certification, said Yardley.

“That would really allow us to ramp up things further and start feeding the supply chains that are struggling right now,” he added. 

To learn more about AEM’s efforts to support the equipment manufacturing industry, visit the COVID-19 section on the AEM website. If you have questions or need to get a hold of AEM staff, please e-mail our Response Team at responseteam@aem.org.

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