ZEELAND, Mich. — Duane Baker is the I.T. Manger at Extol, Inc. in Zeeland, but he is also a lieutenant with the city's fire department.
As the threat of the coronavirus began to spread, he knew that first responders would need protection while they continued to protect the public. So Baker turned to his engineering background to come up with a way to get an N95 filter inside a firefighting mask.
Once he got an idea, he went to management at Extol, asking for approval to make some prototypes.
Getting the all clear, Baker and a small team took three days to solid design plans.
Then they started reaching out to area fire departments to see if there would be interest. Baker says within an hour they had requests for more than 1,000 adapters.
The team put the commercial 3D printers at Extol to work, creating several adapters to fit the various models of masks used by fire departments across the U.S. Baker says without 3D printing technology, the adapters could have never been manufactured with enough strength to handle the rigors of a firefighting shift.
Inside the adapter sits a cartridge that can hold an N95 filter in place. Firefighters have to cut a circle out of an N95 mask, and place that into the cartridge.
The design allows firefighters to easily remove, clean, and re-use the filter over several shifts. Baker says that effectively extends the life of a single N95 mask by up to a factor of 100.
Just one week after Baker presented his pitch for the adapters, Extol shipped out the first batch to fire departments across the country. "I think that that's that's that's pretty good. The response has been actually pretty overwhelming," said Baker.
Extol is only charging for the materials to make the adapters.
"I've been at Extol for 24/25 years now and they certainly always supported, lots of, lots of worldwide needs and this just fit right in right into our know right into what we wanted to do. So, certainly, we're a for profit company, but on the flip side, we take a lot of what we do and we bring that back into different communities with mission trips and significant impact stuff and that's just what we're about."