How to Design a Solution for the N95 Respirator Shortage?

The world has a global shortage of N95 respirator. What can we do?

After diving into the problem myself, I realized that this is just a symptom of a larger problem. This problem is so much bigger than just masks. But for this blog post, we will just focus on the manufacturing and design side of the problem. I came up with the below 3 questions after going through my standard product design process:

  1. Is there a way to increase the production of melt blown fabric? If not…
  2. Is there another material that can filter well while still being breathable? If not…
  3. Is there a way to use our current supply of this material more efficiently? Yes. #FixTheMask.

Given the pressing nature of the situation, I chose to work on the one that was fastest to solve with the minimal amount of resources. But how did I get here? For any good design, you have to tear apart the current solution, figure out what is bad about each aspect of it, and make it better. Let’s break down the process of designing something that actually gets to the heart of the issue. Below was my design process.

Why are N95s respirators so good?

Why does this help with COVID-19?

What’s an aerosolized particle?

How do N95s respirators work?

What’s a filter?

How does an N95 respirator work?

What are N95s respirators made of?

What is melt blown fabric?

There is a global shortage of this material (NPR). Manufacturers across the world are struggling to keep up with demand.

Why is there a global shortage of melt blown fabric?

So, here is our first design problem:

Is there a way to increase the production of melt blown fabric?

Why is melt blown fabric so good for masks?

Woven vs Knit vs Melt Blown Fabric

What about other fabrics?

What if you just tighten the weave or knit as hard as possible?

How do you make a good net, that’s breathable, with something that inherently has holes?

How to make a good filter

Why can’t you achieve the above with multiple layers of cloth?

(There are also details with electrets that we will not get into here. They have to do with further increasing the ability to attract particles by charging a layer of the fabric. If you’ve made it this far and are still interested, I encourage you to check it out on your own.)

So, this is our second design problem

Is there another material that can filter well while still being breathable?

Let’s file this question away for later. For now, let’s move on.

How are N95s made?

Why are N95 respirators made this way?

Is this the only way to make something fit the face?

What is efficiency?

So, this is our third design problem:

Is there a way to use our current supply of this material more efficiently?

So what is good design?

The latest data and information on the Essential Mask Brace and masks in general.