When AJ Apone began to share on social media his idea to 3D print hospital-grade masks for first responders, he didn’t know how far he would be able to take it. If he could get his hands on a few more “entry-level” printers he might be able to get his mask output up to 30 to 40 units daily.
Within a few weeks of his launch, Apone says he has been able to expand his project, The Mask Initiative, due to donations from the public. He has gone, within the pandemic’s short time frame, from two printers to 17 printers, three-and-a-half hours to create each mask to two hours per mask, and from completing a dozen a day to now calling it a day after number 144.
He said the work has been challenging at times, and he has had to change and adapt his style as he’s gone along. But with the help of a few friends, his family and a local youth organization, he’s been able to keep up with his demand.
“You know people are just coming out of the woodwork wanting to help, and I always say that’s great and I’m totally for it,” said Apone. “But this is a rule: If you want to print the masks, I need them to come back to me so I can properly seal them, finish them, package them and get them out.”
Apone said that a part of the success was finding out about a less expensive machine than the one he had been using — a machine for which he likened his experience to the same relationship he had with his first car — but that still printed at the same level of quality, he said.
In addition to finding printers at two-thirds the cost of his “entry-level” ones, Apone said he had learned about a new design for the mask that, with the new printers, would mean a shortened build time.
But even with the new knowledge, equipment and helpers, Apone was still working out of his Newhall home. His home-base workshop might’ve been convenient for waking up in the middle of the night to restart the machines, but it has its limits, he said.
“(Tuesday) night was the first time my circuits blew, my breaker split because I’m running too much power,” said Apone. “And I was like, ‘Shoot, that’s going to be a problem… If I’m only running these 10 right now, what’s going to happen when I’m running 17?”
A friend who knew of Apone’s problem had already been thinking about his need for a commercial space as opposed to the residential space, he said. After making a few phone calls, Apone was told by his friend that Michael Taback, a local business owner, said he wanted to help.
“He’s like, ‘I’d be willing to give him, if their production gets too big, I’d be willing to give them three months for free at one of my locations that’s just sitting empty,’” said Apone. “All I have to do is pay utilities and insurance, which is like, you know, pennies on the dollar.”
Apone said the donations he’s received so far, now at more than $20,000 from public crowd sourcing, and expected to go further, he’s able to create more masks and buy more machines.
“”We all have to do what we can during this crisis,” said Taback. “We are happy to be able to provide space during this time of need. Hopefully, this will contribute to the alleviation of the local PPE shortage.”
As of Wednesday, Apone had created and shipped off 265 masks, placing them on his porch for the nurse, firefighter, deputy, officer or doctor to come pick up free of charge, while maintaining social distancing.
Apone’s first full day in the donated location was Thursday.
For more information about The Mask Initiative or how to donate to the project, visit https://www.themaskinitiative.com/.