SANDPOINT — Another Idaho manufacturing company is leveraging its resources to create products to help fight the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Tamarack Aerospace is using materials that normally become airplane parts to develop masks for health care workers, using 3D printers.
“When we heard that our local hospital, Bonner County General Hospital, was running low on some vital protective gear, we tapped into our resources to see where we could help meet their needs,” Tamarack President Jacob Klinginsmith said in a statement.
The unprecedented outbreak has created a shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to help keep health care workers, as well as front-line workers such as grocery store clerks and delivery people, from spreading the virus.
Tamarack Aerospace engineers have been 3D printing reusable, protective respiratory masks based on a design developed by doctors in Billings, Montana, called the Montana Mask.
“The masks include a small industrial filter, which provides equivalent protection to the N95 mask,” the company said.
Using in-house company resources such as computer-aided design and multiple 3D printers, Tamarack has been able to produce more than 60 masks.
“I follow an online forum for 3D printer folks that started in on the PPE effort,” said Nathan Cropper, chief engineer. “The most credible source I found was the Billings Clinic site (www.makethemasks.com). I shared it with the team and they jumped at the idea!”
The website also provides the design files that allow 3D printer owners to build masks. Because the design is open source, people can collaborate by adding design improvements and variations.
The masks are made with commercially available materials such as polylactic acid (PLA), Cropper said.
“Our printers are the filament/extruder type printers,” Cropper said. “Tamarack has inventory of the filament for R&D projects.”
Cropper started out using his own personal 3D printer and supplies, but Tamarack also has a printer that another engineer has been managing to produce additional masks using Tamarack-supplied materials, he said.
It takes roughly four hours to print each mask, but the printers allow Tamarack to print multiple masks at a time, so staffers can print 24 hours a day, Cropper said.
“The masks probably use about $1 of material per mask,” he said. “The filter squares are about $0.60 to purchase.”
In addition, other Tamarack employees have been sewing masks, producing more than 50 so far. Both the sewn and 3D-printed masks are being distributed directly to Bonner County General Hospital, the company said.
Tamarack also reached out to its connections in Shenzhen, China to help Bonner County General Hospital source 2,400 FDA-approved N95 masks when the hospital’s normal supply chain was experiencing serious delays.
And the mask printing shows no sign of stopping.
“As I understand it, the hospital’s supply chain for PPE was severely disrupted,” Cropper said. “We’ll likely keep printing until the hospital builds up its inventory of PPE to support their projections.”
The company, which makes active winglet after-market parts for Cessna CitationJet planes, now produced by Textron Inc., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on June 1 after reports surfaced about a problem with one of its active winglet parts.
The ATLAS winglet that Tamarack Aerospace makes is a vertical fin at the tip of the wing. It reduces drag on the airplane and helps save fuel — up to a 15% to 25% decrease in fuel burn, according to industry press reports.
When the problem surfaced, the company wasn’t able to sell the parts for two months, which led to the bankruptcy filing.
After resolving the problem, in June and July the company resumed sales and sold three of the winglet kits, installing one in late July. The company also received almost $2 million in financing in early August to help it through the reorganization, exiting it last fall.