A*Star team pulled long hours to develop reusable face masks for all amid pandemic

A*Star worked with local textile and apparel manufacturer Ramatex to set up a local production line for reusable masks. PHOTO: A*STAR

SINGAPORE - It was a seemingly endless process of trying out different materials and combinations to put together a reusable face mask that would fit all criteria.

Pulling long hours, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) team tested about 30 prototypes before settling on the one that was eventually distributed nationwide in May 2020.

At the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, there was both a severe shortage of face masks in Singapore and a shortage of raw materials globally, said Mr Jonathan Goh, deputy director of the project management office at A*Star's Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology.

The team was tasked in February 2020 to find alternative materials that could be made into a reusable mask, which would have the right filtration capabilities and also withstand multiple washes.

The design also had to be comfortable and the mask breathable, he said.

Working with Ramatex, a local textile and apparel manufacturer that had partnered with A*Star before, the team scoured through various materials available, from dri-fit material used for sports apparel to those used for clean room suits - garments worn in an environment with a controlled level of contamination.

The eventual prototype that passed the tests - and also received positive feedback from colleagues and their children - was one that had a middle layer for filtration, with inner and outer layers made of a dri-fit material.

More than 10 million of these masks have been produced here since the start of the project to provide protection from spreading or contracting Covid-19.

The team also later designed masks that were included in the National Day Parade 2020 funpack and collaborated with the Singapore Association for the Deaf to design masks with a transparent section at the mouth area to allow for easier lip reading.

For its efforts in developing and manufacturing the reusable face masks made from alternative materials during the early stages of the pandemic, A*Star received the Agility Award at the Covid-19 Public Sector Transformation Awards ceremony on Wednesday (July 6).

The award recognises initiatives developed and implemented in a timely manner to respond to challenges and needs in a fast-changing operating landscape.

After months of hard work, seeing members of the public wear the masks that the team had poured their efforts into was like "a father seeing his son go to school for the first time", quipped Mr Goh.

He said that the team was very proud of their work and would initially send around pictures of people wearing the masks, or comments online from those praising it, to the team WhatsApp group.

"It is not often that you get a chance to bring people together to develop something for the nation during a crisis," said Mr Goh.

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