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Highlands Employee Uses 3-D Printer to Make Protective Face Masks 

April 14, 2020

Photo of 3-D printer

A 3-D printer producers a plastic protective face mask that will be fitted with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to cover the nose and mouth. Mariano Ulibarri of New Mexico Highlands University is operating the printer.
Photos: Mariano Ulibarri

Las Vegas, New Mexico – Mariano Ulibarri of New Mexico Highlands University is producing reusable plastic protective face masks on a 3-D printer for the campus and broader community to use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ulibarri is making the masks at home on his kitchen counter using the 3-D printer he uses for work at Highlands as the Los Alamos National Laboratory coordinator of student support and computer science for ARMAS, the Highlands Achieving in Research, Math and Science center.

“The first masks will be for our Highlands campus police,” Ulibarri said. “Next, I’ll be making masks for my wife, who is a nurse at Alta Vista Regional Hospital, and her co-workers in health care. Once I determine my production capacity, I will reach out to others in the community. I need to be realistic about what I can do.”

The process is slow to print the masks on the 3-D printer.

“The printing time for two masks is between four to six hours. With only one printer, I’m going to be running this one 24/7 for the first couple of weeks. I’ll be reaching out to other Highlands departments with 3-D printers to see if I can borrow them,” Ulibarri said.

Ulibarri said he got the idea to print the masks from a friend in Maine who was one of the first in the country to use a 3-D printer to produce protective face masks for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo of 3-D face mask

Protective face mask mask produced by 3-D printer.

“He’s been doing this for several weeks and I’ve been paying close attention to his successes and failures. The design is based upon masks that have been made for health care systems in several states,” Ulibarri said.

Ulibarri ordered and collected the materials he needed to print the masks: spools of plastic, drop-in HEPA filters, short for high efficiency particulate air filter, and elastic straps. Luckily, Michael Siewert of the ThreadBear fabric store in Las Vegas donated the elastic straps.

Ulibarri, 39, is a Las Vegas native who earned his M.A. in media arts and computer science from Highlands in 2013. He is a national leader in the maker space movement, with the White House inviting him to contribute to the Nation of Makers meeting in August 2016.

“I’m very proud of all my friends and colleagues around the world who are stepping up to design, print and distribute personal protection equipment to those who need it most during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like getting these masks out to our campus community and local community is my duty. I have access to technology and will do my best to contribute during this difficult time,” Ulibarri said.

Clarence Romero, the Highlands chief of police, said the plastic protective masks will be helpful.

“These plastic masks will provide additional backup for our disposable N95 medical masks that we would use in response to a potential COVID-19 incident,” Romero said.