ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories have announced they have developed a more comprehensive way of testing personal protective equipment (PPE). Officials say the basic principle is modeling a device to fit the human form and human behavior.

A team, including engineers Todd Barrick and Brad Salzbrenner, came up with what they say is a better solution. They created a model of a human face that could be loaded into a commercial filter test system.

“We wanted quicker testing and to look at more features, like how does the mask fit on a face,” Salzbrenner said. “We used 3D printing capabilities to make it more pliable, like skin.” After the mask is on the form, the tester applies pressure to give an airtight seal and then introduces the aerosol.

The team decided to incorporate how a real person wears a mask and gaps or flaws that might be present in real-life conditions. Their solution: develop a more complex version with a complete human head.

Engineers would then put the head with a mask inside an airtight box and then placed it into the testing machine. This allowed for a more natural flow of air to go over the mask.

Then they went one step further and decided to test the reuse of PPE, something that there is not currently a standard of testing. “We developed the chamber version to automate donning and doffing (the putting on and taking off of an item) to test respirator function over time, a predominant factor in wear on a mask. It also mimics how a mask is set on the face and shows you any gaps that air and particles can get past,” Salzbrenner said.

The team says this can be used in addition to the other testing models they created to make an all-in-one PPE tester. They’re now working to further test their method with the help of $100,000 from Sandia’s Technology Maturation Program in hopes of licensing out the science to a company that can produce it commercially.