From their parental home in Heidelberg, the brothers Beck are printing eight to ten masks a day. They package these in large ziplock bags, in a fully disinfected room. Tiago was ‘behind the mask’ himself during an internship a while ago. “I saw doctors, home carers, apothecaries and elderly people who desperately needed masks, but couldn’t get one,” Tiago relates. “These are people who are in the trenches. Unfortunately, they’re not the ones who get the masks first. I wanted to do something about that.”

tiago beck maskers
Image credit: private photo

His brother Keno had just finished his master degree in Space Sciences in Germany. He came up with the idea to 3D print the masks, after  he saw that 3D printer producer Prusa Research released mask designs. Keno: ” My graduation research was about 3D printing with metal. That’s not a subject that’s directly related to facial masks, but it did teach me a lot about the processes and developments  concerned with 3D printing. Tiago added to this with his medical knowledge. He  is all about the hygiene and sterilisation for the safe production of masks. That’s how we combined our strengths.”

Completely safe

The brothers were greatly helped by the efforts of Prusa Research, a Czech company that produces 3D printers. In collaboration with health experts, it developed open-source files for facial masks that people who owned 3D printers could use instantly. “Anyone who has such a printer can do their part by printing these masks and distributing them,” Keno explains. “The masks are completely safe and can also be made with printers.  The experts also advise people with regard to the materials and how to disinfect the masks. There are constant updates that make the processes quicker and safer.”

tiago beck 3d printer
Image credit: private photo

Online communities are also lending a great deal of support, like the Facebook group ‘Open Source Covid-19 Medical Supplies’ or the German website ‘Maker vs. Virus’. Tiago: “Those communities can really come in handy for technical questions regarding the printing process, like when the printer is not working properly. We also use the communities  to collect the required materials, such as plastic. It’s really cool to see how quickly 3D printing is developing at the moment, now we’re all joining forces. We’ve only been going at it for two weeks and have already created a well-functioning process to produce eight to ten masks a day.”

Keno thinks that the quick developments in 3D printing are due to the increased digitisation. “If this pandemic had struck in 2005, we’d have never been able to respond as quickly. The digitisation has given us access to valuable communities. Twitter allowed us to contact donors. We communicate with doctors via e-mail to arrange for them to pick up the masks.”

Anyone can lend a hand

The brothers’ short-term aim is to make their production of masks increasingly quicker and safer. In the long term, they want to do more: “75 masks are not enough,” according to Keno. “That’s why we want to spread the message and let as many people as possible help out. If you own a sowing machine or 3D printer, you can lend a hand. Or you might have access to a valuable medical or logistical network. There’s also a lot to do with regard to organisation and coordination.”

Tiago affirms: “Ironically, the sense of community is stronger than ever. We are all in this together. In these desperate times, there is a great need for community.”

Watch this vlog about face masks at Erasmus MC

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