Bag cutting underway

Laser Cutting Handmade Face Mask/Covering Components

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” – Helen Keller.

Presently our community in Central Florida is coming together to tackle the issue of dwindling personal protective equipment aka “PPE” for those in the health care industry. Together using the combined powers of social media, donations, networking, sewing machines, scissors, and of course, lasers, to do our part. The tools aren’t just limited to our makerspace, we are using the combined effort of over 300 individuals (and growing) in a Facebook group and makerspace members at home to combat this local and worldwide issue as best we can.

Last week I learned of a group sewing face masks (note, these are non medical grade masks and not to be confused with certified N95 Masks and Respirators) and followed along as they worked on hand cutting the fabric they are taking from reusable shopping bags. The fabric known is Polypropylene, a durable and breathable fabric that makes light weight face masks, though this PP is not medical grade it is still something to cover someones face to help prevent the spread of aerosol spray from coughs and sneezes as well as to offer some protection while out getting groceries at the local stores. Just today, the Centers for Disease Control recommended that anyone going out into public areas should wear a face mask in addition to maintaining social distancing (CDC Mask Recommendations) which means not only will those treating patients with Covid-19 need more masks, the lab techs, ambulance drivers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, mail carriers, etc. need to wear some sort of face covering to help prevent the spread.

The group on Facebook, Orlando Face Mask Strong, has setup the distributed home production of basic surgical mask like face coverings utilizing the fabric from recycled bags. This is where I saw an opportunity to help them with the tools they may not have known existed or could help in their efforts to make these masks. The group has organized itself in such a manner that there are dedicated sewers, runners, washers, bag dissemblers, and materials pickup / distributors. Its amazing how quick a local community can come together to solve a problem.

Now onto the lasers, because we want to laser everything. MakerFX Makerspace is home to two laser cutters at this moment, an Epilog 50 watt Co2 laser with a 24×36″ bed and an eBay special import hand-me-down we rebuilt with a 36×48″ bed and 80-100 watt Co2 laser tube. With laser cutters you can’t exactly cut any material, some materials just cant cut with a Co2 laser or because it is hazardous to health and the machine. It turns out, Polypropylene cuts in the laser beautifully. A member of the Orlando Face Mask Strong took the groups hand drawn template and drew it in CAD so they could have a better template for revisions and updates which instantly made me think… “I can laser cut that”.

Before using the laser to cut I tried cutting one by hand, I have very little experience sewing but I can at least cut construction paper. After printing the template, cutting it out, tracing onto the paper, cutting it, and marking parts on the material I was at about 3-4 minutes to do one. I am sure others can probably knock them out faster having done a few dozen or hundred by now, so I went to work to setup the Epilog Laser to cut.

Deconstructed bags next to a normal bag.

Our raw material prior to going in the laser pictured above is 19 deconstructed bags of the same build type. Reusable grocery bags come in many different shapes, sizes, and construction. These had simple heat sealed seams and no straps running down the side so after taking apart we were left with 33″ x 19″ of material to work with, which allowed for 4 masks components to be cut out of one bag. 

Bag cutting underway
The Cutting Begins

After spending a few minutes setting up the file layout and cut settings with the laser driver we were ready to cut.  4 masks took a flat 2:00 minutes to complete. I identified a few areas to optimize the cut for this size of material and we have already modified the template files and hope to shave off 30 seconds for a 4 mask cut.  At the current speed of 2 minutes we are able to cut out components for 144 masks in an hour, compared to my manual version scissor cutting version only getting maybe 20 per hour if I don’t ruin the material or get distracted by something else. 

Completed Parts
halfway through
Final Stack
Components for 72 masks

In the above image we have all cut components for the main mask assembly. Bias tape still needs to be made and then all of the parts will go together by the sewers in the group.   Coming back to the community portion of the group, just today we have been donated 50 yards of polypropylene fabric, over 350 bags, and more coming every day. 

How can you get involved?

If you want to find out what groups are in your area helping make PPE check out the following groups on Facebook 

Open Source Covid19 Medical Supplies

and locally for the Central Florida Area

Open Source Covid19 Medical Supplies – Central and South Florida