Working Paper Article Version 1 This version is not peer-reviewed

Particle Transmission through Respirators Fabricated with Fused Filament Fabrication and Powder Bed Fusion Additive Manufacturing

Version 1 : Received: 5 June 2020 / Approved: 7 June 2020 / Online: 7 June 2020 (10:33:30 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Journal of Manufacturing Systems 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.jmsy.2021.01.002


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals, including N95-type respiratory protective masks. To address this shortage, many have looked to the agility and accessibility of additive manufacturing (AM) systems to provide a democratized, decentralized solution to producing respirators with equivalent protection for last-resort measures. However, there are concerns about the viability and safety in deploying this localized download, print, and wear strategy. Several polymer-based AM processes produce porous parts, and inherent process variation between printers and materials also threaten the integrity of tolerances and seals within the printed respirator assembly. The goal of this paper is to quantitatively measure particle transmission through printed respirators of different designs, materials, and AM processes, and assess the viability of printed respirators as N95 equivalents. Results from this study show that respirators printed using desktop/industrial-scale fused filament fabrication processes and industrial-scale powder bed fusion processes have insufficient filtration efficiency at the size of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even while assuming a perfect seal between the respirator and the user’s face. Almost all printed respirators provided <60% filtration efficiency at the 100-300 nm particle range. Only one respirator, printed on an industrial-scale fused filament fabrication system provided >90% efficiency as-printed. Post-processing procedures including cleaning, sealing surfaces, and reinforcing the filter cap seal generally improved performance, but no respirator sustained the filtration efficiency of an N95 respirator, which filters 95% of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. Instead, the printed respirators showed similar performance to various cloth masks. While continued optimization of printing process parameters and design tolerances could be implemented to directly print respirators that provide the requisite 95% filtration efficiency, AM processes are not sufficiently reliable for widespread distribution and local production of N95-type respiratory protection without commensurate quality assurance processes in place. Certain design/printer/material combinations may provide sufficient protection for specific users, but the respirators should not be trusted without quantitative filtration efficiency testing. It is currently not advised to expect printed respirators originating from distributed designs to replicate performance across different printers and materials.


COVID-19; additive manufacturing; N95; respirator; particle transmission; filtration efficiency


ENGINEERING, Mechanical Engineering

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