Out of 111 million population affected by COVID, globally, 28.1 million cases are from the US alone, as of 22 of February 2020. With the rising number of COVID cases, the usage of effective masks has become imperative. While the year 2020 was eclipsed by a coronavirus, the year 2021 has come under the attack of a new mutant strain, B.1.1.7 which is 70% more contagious than SARS-CoV2. Therefore, it is advisable not to let the guard down even if the lockdown is over and follow the COVID norms by maintaining social distance, washing hands, and wearing masks. And not just any mask but wearing effective ones is what will get you through these troubling times
As per Mayo Clinic, N95 masks are far more effective than regular masks and medical masks because they prevent large and small particles from passing through. Due to the higher efficiency of these masks to prevent the transmission of coronavirus the research is going to turn these disposable masks into durable to reuse them. The National Institute of occupational safety and health (NIOSH) is the regulatory body that certifies the quality and effectiveness of N95 masks. Apart from N95 face masks, N95 respirators are available in the market which is approved by U.S. Food and drug administration (FDA) and NIOSH for better filtration and fluid resistance.
What is N95 mask
N in the N95 masks means non-oil which means that the masks are highly recommended to use in a setting that is free of oil particles. Likewise, R in some other masks means they are resistant to oil to some extent whereas P means it is oil-proof. Whereas, 95 stands for efficiency percentage which means that N95 masks filter out 95% of particles above 0.3 microns, efficient in protecting against airborne particles, however not oil-resistant.
How are N95 masks produced
The masks are made from mesh-like layers of non-woven polypropylene fabric. The first two coatings of the masks facing outside and inside are spun-bond. In the process of spun-bonding, nozzles are used to create a piece of fabric by blowing melted threads of polypropylene. These threads are anywhere between 15-35 micrometers which are blown through the nozzle on the conveyor belt. This raw mesh then goes through a thermal, mechanical, and chemical treatment to form a stronger bond. The first two coatings on the outside of the mask are somewhere between 20 and 50 g/m2 thick which is the 1st line of defense against the contaminants.
Another needled nonwoven pre-filtration layer of 250 g/m2 thickness is added along with a filtration layer. This pre-filtration material passes through the barbed needles to strongly bond the layers together. The next process that this pre-filtration layer goes through is a calendering process to thermally bond the fabric using specialized rolls. Then the final layer is made from melt-blown electret nonwoven material. The process of melt-blown uses the nozzles to air spray the threads of melted synthetic polymers on the conveyor belt. These threads begin to cool off and bond along the conveyor belt and turn into fabric. After this stage, sometimes the material goes through thermal bonding to make it stronger. The final stage of developing a mask from this fabric is achieved by using a converting machine that helps join these layers together using ultrasonic welding. It is at this stage that the straps are attached and the shape of the mask is formed which can snugly fit. And the masks are ready for distribution but not before serialization.
List of global manufacturers and distributors of N95 masks
1. Venus N95 mask
Venus safety and health Pvt. ltd. is a global leader in manufacturing and distributing neck-up personal protective equipment (PPE), since 1986. It offers 15 different variants of N95 masks to suit the wide range of requirements of the users. Venus has factory outlets based in India and sales offices in the Netherlands, India, and UAE. It holds a great reputation for its high-quality products and for being ISO 9001:2015 standard.
Based in Santa Ana, California, Honeywell is a world-renowned brand known for its wide range of safety product-line across many industry verticals. As of now, the company is upping the production of N95 masks to meet the surging demand. Honeywell is a manufacturer and distributor of both N95 masks and respirators with a valve that reduces the strain due to exaltation.
3 M, a business conglomerate that offers high-quality safety equipment has more than 50 types of N95 masks and respirators in its catalog. This US-based is one of the largest manufacturers and distributors in the world. The masks are approved by NIOSH and the N95 respirator even comes with a microfilter to allow higher breathability.
Makrite is based in Taiwan which was founded in 1984 is a manufacturer and distributor of disposable masks. The manufacturing unit is regularly evaluated for quality by NIOSH. Makrite manufactures 40+ NIOSH-approved masks that follow stringent quality checks to maintain the quality batch after batch.
5. Shanghai Dasheng
Shanghai Desheng, based in China is a leading brand production face mask and known for top-quality N95 masks. The company manufactures and distributes over 30 different N95 Masks that are toxic-free, irritant-free, and glass-fiber-free and approved by FDA.
6. Alpha Protech
A US-based company, formed in 1989 is a global leader in manufacturing and distributing personal protective equipment. Alpha Protech produces a broad spectrum of N95 face masks and follows stringent quality checks. The N95 Masks produced by Alpha Protech are approved by WHO and NIOSH.
Although N95 is the most reliable mask available in the market there are several variants available with this category. These spun-bond polypropylene masks are known to filter out 95% of particles above 0.3 microns. NIOSH-approved N95 masks would be the best against COVID.