design innovation

Making Masks at Home

Making, Stitching, and Sewing Masks

There are a lot of at-home masks circulating the Internet and a lot of hospitals, doctors, and physicians trying to get their hands on them. For the last week, I’ve been designing, stitching, prototyping, 3D printing, and diving in and I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned.

First a warning: No home-made part or mask can curreently claim any certification and shouldn’t be compared or substitute for any official FDA tested product. Fabric masks and 3D-printed parts are prone to quality issues, poor seals and non-functioning filters. These designs should be used as a last resort and even then should be used with caution. Using any personal protection equiptment (PPE) without proper qualifiction and testing is dangerous and can give you a false sense of security.

That being said, we’re going to dive into three things people are making right now.

The first is sewn or stitched face masks. Such masks are generally not “air-tight” like a standard N95 mask but these masks are being used by doctors, nurses and staff for extending the life of a standard mask. They are also being used for patients and other staff that would traditionally not be given any mask to help protect them.

All it requires is a cotton fabric or a t-shirt, scissors and ideally a sewing machine. There are many instructions and examples that go into detail on how to do this. Here are many popular designs: Design 1, Design 2. Design 3. Design 4, Design 5, Design 6. There are many options in the designs but they are easy to produce and people are producing tends of thousands of these.

According to this article based on this research, cotton t-shirt fabric as the most suitable material however different instructions offer alternatives such as unwoven polypropylene, pillow-cases, microfiber, and dish-towels. What I’m hearing is that hospitals aren’t being picky but they are creating in-take procedures to accept sewn masks, sterilize them and clean them. At the very least, you can make yourself a mask for when you go out shopping.

There is a lot of experimentation for using an air-duct filter material, usually rated with a MERV rating of 12-15 but I haven’t found articles on the effectiveness of such a filter for personal use. Since these types of masks aren’t air-tight it’s unclear if this type of filter provides additional protection. If you’re using a filter material other than cotton, consider making it removable.

The second area of PPE innovation is around the area of 3D printing. This breaks into two areas, the first is what I’ll call ready for production and the other area is R&D. Since this entire space is only a few weeks old things are moving very quickly and I hope more things will get past R&D and move into production. (This could talk about how to make a prototype)

On the production side of things, 3D printed face-shields are the easiest to produce.

Face-shields protect the face, eyes, and mouth from large droplets such as sneezes and coughs. There are a number of great designs and they require just a 3D printer and some acrylic sheets. I’ve even included a design that can be made with just clear plastic and an elastic band. Here are many popular designs: Design 1, Design 2, Design 3, Design 4, Design 5 There’s a great video that goes into more detail on this. There are also face-shield designs made without a 3D printer using just foam and scissors and another from Bauer

In the realm of 3D-printed R&D projects, there are a number of explorations into applications of the technology to print more complex parts that are needed. I call these R&D because as far as I know they are still being validated. Validation and testing of devices is critical because of how small the Covid virus is…

Covid-19 Size is about 0.3 microns or less.

While sewn masks that are designed to block large droplets is one thing, trying to block something that’s that small requires a lot of testing and validation.

The idea of 3D printed masks sounds awesome and there are a ton of designs floating around the Internet but going from something that prints, to something that can actually seal and works for an eight-hour shift is really hard. There are thousands of people working on this problem and I hope we’ll get to a design that will work but for the time being, we are talking about prototypes.

There are three major problems that are being worked on.

  • Getting a reliable seal to your face for a wide variety of face sizes.
  • Getting a reliable filter and seal between the filter and the mask.
  • Ensuring that the filter media is any good and prevents air from flowing around the filter.

The first problem is that all faces are different. People’s heads come in all shapes and sizes and unfortunately, the most common 3D printing material is PLA plastic. This is a fairly common plastic but it’s also hard, so unlike silicone or rubber, it won’t bend much to the variety of faces.

Traditional masks and respirators often have bendable portions that fit snug around the nose and are made from a material that can conform to the face. People are trying to design around this issue with a wide variety of ideas:

  • Producing a wide variety of sizes
  • Trying to mold the plastic using a heat gun or microwave
  • Using a softer plastic for example PTU
  • Use of rubber foam to line the inside of the mask
  • Using an over-printed inner gasket or gluing parts of a silicone to the inner surface.

Each of these solutions is being worked on and I’m hopeful that one or several will pass clinical tests and validation.

The second problem is the filter. Some designs are using commercial filters that are available and click-in or screw into a design. Other teams are modifying anesthesiology filters to work with masks or attaching various HEPA filters and hand-made MERV/Cotton filter combinations.

The challenge with all these designs is that they need to be safe. Mass General Covid Innovation Group is passing designs through a number of validations:

  • Fit testing
  • Exhalation resistance
  • Inhalation Resistance
  • Filter Efficiency
  • Bacterial Filteration
  • Ability to scale production to thousands quickly
  • Failure mode effects analysis (FMEA)

In addition, designs are being evaluated for how the device can be sterilized and used/re-used for long durations of time. Such a design and product challenge would be aggressive for teams to produce in a six-month window. I’ve been watching teams bring solutions and prototypes together in the last two weeks working day and night.

In addition to respirator style-masks, there are efforts to print parts for ventilators, over the head -PARP-style respirators, and more. Teams from individual maker spaces and large companies are participating. Companies like New Balance and Gap are turning their sneaker, and clothing making machinery and skills into making fabric filters. Companies like Ford, GM, and Tesla are exploring how to rapidly-produce ventilators.

The R&D space is moving quickly and I’m hopeful that some of these solutions can quickly and safely helping frontline workers.

So if you have a sewing machine or 3D printer, please put to immediate use, you can start making masks and face shields today. If you still want to help but don’t know how to sew or have a 3D printer. You can help too… Stay Home!


Apple’s 2020 iPad Pro

If you’re anything like me, it’s been many days in quarantine and your kids stole your iPad a few weeks ago. So let’s take a look Apple’s new iPad Pro and what makes it so new.

Since the original announcement of the iPad over 10 years ago, the iPad has typically been considered the fourth screen device.

Your TV was the 1st screen, your computer was the second, the third was the mobile phone. With this release of the iPad pro, Apple is trying to change the narrative. Apple released two videos –
“Your next computer is not a computer” and “How to correctly use a computer”

In both videos, Apple is clearly trying to make the iPad your second screen taking the place of the computer and they are starting by targetting Pro’s with the iPad Pro. But Why would Apple do that?

If you look at Apple’s financials, over the last year you can see that revenue went down for Mac and iPhone business. However, iPad was up 17%. Apple would love for you to buy an iPad, pair it with some Airpods or Beats, and buy plenty of accessories like keyboards, apple pencils, and dongles.

Apple has been great at hardware advances and it’s no surprise that the display, camera, and performance are getting better and better. The introduction of Lidar is a surprise but this seems to be an extension of what Apple’s been doing with the Facetime camera.

Lidar stands for LIght Detection And Ranging. It sends light beams and then captures the reflection to figure out the range and spacial orientation. It’s used by the Mars Rover, some self-driving cars and now the iPad. It’s being used to improve the Augmented Reality experiences.

In terms of AR, I think there are two interesting areas to explore. The first is gaming. We’ve seen a lot of AR-enhanced games and while they are fun for a few minutes, apart from Pokemon go, few have had lasting value. With better cameras, these games will continue to improve. These technologies set the stage for AR glasses that Apple is rumored to be working on.

The second area in AR is how it’s being used professionally and this is where the iPad Pro may really shine in terms of its technology.

Several years ago Google had introduced AR into it’s larger tablets and Facebook’s Oculus has been pushing into this space. The new iPad’s Lidar is likely to find fans in architecture, space planning, and interior design and Apple’s videos are showing this future.

I know a number of folks who have tried to move to the iPad as their primary computer over the years with many issues, but Apple is systematically working on removing their objections.

Certain types of editing workflows are just easier with your hands on the keyboard and trackpad so Apple is introducing what can only be described as a variation of the traditional mouse and pointer user experience.

The user experience of the trackpad interface is particularly interesting. When not in use the pointer disappears and when it is in use the pointer snaps to controls as you get close. As you hover over text, spreadsheets or other controls the pointer shows context. Apple is even taking advantage of Fitts’s law to make sure that edge gestures like control-center or task switching is particularly easy. The full-size keyboard also removes many of the objections for typing longer documents on the iPad.

The other main objection for using the iPad as a computer is the lack of pro-level applications. Apple has been chipping away at this problem and some tools such as Adobe Photoshop and other pro-level tools have started to be available, however, even Apple’s own pro-level tools such as Final Cut Pro, Motion, and Xcode haven’t yet gotten their 1st generation iPad versions, making it hard to convince both Pros and larger software companies.

The iPad is looking like a great computer alternative but, it’s unlikely to replace your computer if you’re a true pro. Pros in audio, video, photography, architecture and engineering are likely to need tools and applications that aren’t yet available on the iPad Pro.

Apple is making great progress on a technology called “Mac Catalyst” that is allowing developers to share more code between their iPad, iPhone and Mac apps and that will also help.

So if you’re a Pro the new screen, keyboard, performance, and Lidar enhanced camera can certainly come in handy, but what if you’re not a Pro?

For non-pros, this can absolutely be a computer replacement. Web-browsing, document editing, portability, is a great option. The only potential downside is the price. When comparing the new iPad Pro with the new 13″ Macbook Air the two are almost the exact same price. If you configure both with 245GB and keyboard the iPad Pro is $84 more expensive.

So is the iPad Pro a computer replacement? Probably not for the true pros, it’s still a fourth screen for most but I do think the format for a tablet/slate computer is likely to become the second screen of the future.


Tesla MCU Upgrade

Tesla is unique because they are both a hardware company and a software company. The main brain of the Tesla car is it’s MCU or media control unit. Up until 2018, the MCU of the Teslas was an NVidea Tegra 3 chipset. In that year Tesla moved to an Intel Chipset and when it did that the new Tesla Model 3 software got a lot faster.

Unfortunately for people who had the older computer the software started to fall behind. Unlike an iPhone that perhaps is easy to upgrade every 2-5 years, it’s much more expensive and complex to upgrade a car. Luckily Tesla recently released a hardware upgrade that essentially replaces the main computer of the Tesla.

Take a look as we upgrade the main brain of a Model S with a new MCU and the Full-Self-Driving computer, the FSD.


How to start a company with no money

Starting a business without initial capital is a process of building a stable foundation while minimizing risk.

There are three things needed to start a company:

  1. Money
  2. Customers
  3. Product/Service

Since we’re doing this without money, we’re left with just Customers and Products. The easiest way to get this started is with a side-hustle. The main idea is that you keep a stable job to provide you regular schedule and the financial stability and work on your business during nights and weekends.

Your side-hustle doesn’t have to be the exact business that you will start but it should move you in the general direction of your interests. If you think your business will be in the food or restaurant space consider delivering grub-hub as a side-hustle. Want to get into real estate? Look into being an AirBnB host. If you’re starting a beverage company, consider working at a bar or restaurant at night.

Think of your side hustle as both some financial capital but also as market research. There are a lot of examples of entrepreneurs getting started this way. Michael Dell started his computer business being a student and having a side-hustle of putting together computers for your friends.

Daymond John, the founder of clothing company FUBU, was working in Red Lobster while he was getting his business off the ground selling hats on New York street corners.

The founder of Mattel sold picture frames as his main thing and used the scraps of the picture frames to start building and selling dollhouses.

Lara Merriken, was working in Whole Foods stocking shelves working on her product the Lärabar, which gave her insight into how Whole Foods works and it also gave her access to store buyers willing to try her product. This access ultimately led to her big break.

Starting your business as a side-hustle gives you the advantage of financial stability but it also gives you a unique view of business problems. It may also give you access to customers.

If you’re trying to start a company with little or no money one thing you try to do to get initial cash flow is to get a customer to pay upfront. How do we do that? You build a prototype or sample.

Prototypes don’t have to be expensive, they can be drawn on a piece of paper, cut out of cardboard, hand made models or recipes baked in your oven. Certain businesses are harder to start without funding but most business ideas can be prototyped.

If you’ve built a prototype or sample of your product then services like Kickstarter, Fiverr or Etsy can give you a platform to sell products your product directly to consumers. These types of services require very little or no up-front capital. You can get customers before committing to a lot of financial up-front risk.

If you have a service business you may also be able to charge an upfront-deposit or down-payment giving you initial cash-flow. This is common in many consulting, construction, and subscription businesses.

Your early samples and prototypes can also give you customer feedback on what people like or dislike about your product.

Initial sales are unlikely to have a significant initial financial impact but they will help you continue to improve your product and they will get the initial flow started. Initial sales are sold one-by-one, so expect to get personal when you start the business. As your product or service gets out into the real world, you’ll start to develop word of mouth about your business or product.

For companies that have Money – they can spend money to get customers. But starting a company with little or no money, you need to make your products really great to get the word-of-mouth and attract more customers.

As the business grows, the revenue flow starts to increase and you’ll be able to spend more on growth, hiring, and talent. Ultimately every small business can be the catalyst for a larger one and the hardest part of starting a business is actually starting.

Good luck on your journey!

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