Why can’t I find enough N95 masks?

Why can’t I find enough N95 masks?

Welcome to “Ask Deb from QA,” a new column from MxD.

Every week, Deb from QA — with decades of experience on the factory floor — will answer your questions to demystify and explain the digital manufacturing industry.

Please submit your questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org

Dear Deb: Why can’t I source enough N95 masks for my workers?

This is one of the top questions I’m hearing from friends in the industry these days. Let me explain why it’s so hard to find enough N95 masks, even months after the start of the pandemic.

In short, N95 mask production capabilities are very limited in the United States. Most N95 masks are coming from abroad. Yet demand is sky high. That’s one challenge. 

Another big issue: The N95 masks arriving stateside are going to the bigger companies (the ones with connections to supply chains), as well as to the federal government, which is stockpiling masks for their frontline workers (prison guards, TSA workers, military, etc.). Hospitals and health departments across the country also are competing for the masks.  

Do know that there are groups aggressively trying to increase production in the United States. Here at MxD, for example, we’re in talks to partner with manufacturing institutes like AFFOA — Advanced Functional Fabrics of America — to jumpstart production of N95 masks stateside. 

Of course, if you’re a small business, that doesn’t solve the immediate problem. Short of paying exorbitant prices from an intermediary, you may want to consider 3D printing masks, if you have the capability. 

The National Institute of Health, a governmental agency, has a database of digital files you can download and 3D print. Sure, you’ll still have to source materials like filter pieces, but you’ll be able to replicate and manufacture N95 masks if your company really needs them. 

We’re manufacturers, after all! We can make pretty much anything.

Assuring quality,

Check out last week’s Ask Deb here:
Love gaming? Consider cybersecurity

Deb from QA wants to hear your questions. Send ‘em to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and she’ll answer as soon she’s done with her shift.