Trials begin for a new type of face mask

Media Release

RMIT fashion and textiles experts have designed a new style of protective face mask for healthcare workers.

The staff and student team has sewn 100 of the prototype masks as part of a Federal Government initiative to meet potential shortages in safety gear during the pandemic.

The design has been through several variations and has now been scaled up for further non-medical trials through the Australian Manufacturing Technology Institute Limited (AMTIL). If successful, it could soon be produced by local manufacturers.

Associate Dean (Research & Innovation) in RMIT’s School of Fashion & Textiles, Dr Scott Mayson, said their alternative experimental mask was designed to be a comfortable, secure one-size fits all product.

“It has been developed specifically to fit a broad range of faces with just one strap and a unique under chin profile that maintained a seal,” Mayson said.

“The top panel conforms to the face with minimal pressure around the nose but also allows for expansion when talking or moving the mouth while maintaining the seal.

“The intention is that it can be worn for long periods of time without becoming uncomfortable as many existing masks do, while still providing high levels of protection.”

The mask is made from several layers of specially developed material supplied by Med-Con and two internal sandwiched layers of blended natural material developed by CSIRO for filtering virus-carrying particles.

The team has been cutting and sewing the masks in design studios and production labs at RMIT’s Brunswick campus, while following extra physical distancing procedures.

Working with Mayson and fellow design experts George Chan, Blake Barnes and Professor Rajiv Padhye are four Honours students.

One of those who answered the call to help is Bachelor of Fashion Design Honours student, Lauren Hart McKinnon.

She says while it’s strange being back in her old studio with familiar people she hasn’t seen since the world changed, she is grateful to have a shared project during lockdown.

“It’s been nice to be productive in a situation that can seem so far out of our control, even if it’s only a small contribution,” she says.

“There are healthcare workers out there putting in ridiculous hours to keep people alive through this so putting in a few days’ work to make these masks feels like the least I could do to help.”

Dean of RMIT’s School of Fashion & Textiles, Professor Robyn Healy, said the project highlighted the design, materials innovation and sustainable production resources ready to be deployed to meet urgent needs in these times of change.

“We are very proud to contribute to this collaborative project working with major industry partners and government authorities, with our senior researchers, technicians and students coming together to facilitate progression of this design, to support the safety of the frontline health community – taking care of those who are taking care of all of us,” she said.

RMIT’s coordinated research response to COVID-19 includes several other projects, such as our engineers 3D printing face shields for healthcare workers.