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Nation's first face mask testing facility is on its way

Tuesday 28, Apr 2020

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Nation's first face mask testing facility is on its wayAustralia’s first face mask testing facility will be established in Adelaide, South Australia (SA). Using research expertise from Flinders University (Flinders) and the University of South Australia (UniSA), the testing facility will support the production of millions of respirators and surgical masks by the Detmold Group to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). “Making and testing respirators and surgical masks in Adelaide is exactly the type of innovative response required to provide Australia with the equipment needed to halt the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” SA Premier Steven Marshall said. “This is an outstanding example of government, universities and business coming together to work in the national interest in the most challenging of times.”

The establishment of testing facilities at local universities for locally made respirators and surgical masks, it is believed, will provide assurance to the public of the quality and safety of the equipment used in hospitals. “The state government, Flinders University and the University of South Australia are collaborating to rapidly respond to the need for an onshore facility to test the locally made medical equipment that will start rolling off the production line in May,” said David Pisoni, SA Minister for Innovation and Skills. The SA facility will receive a $450,000 grant through the Research Commercialisation and Startup Fund and will be established using laboratories at Flinders Tonsley and UniSA Mawson Lakes, providing new capability for Australia and the state.

Face masks such as the respirator P2/N95 and level 3 surgical masks must be tested to strict manufacturing standards to protect health workers, with testing generally performed in the US, taking approximately three weeks. China produces much of the global supply of face masks; however, this has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state and Commonwealth Governments commissioned Detmold Group, an SA packaging company, to establish P2/N95 masks and a surgical mask manufacturing capability in Brompton, to produce 45 million face masks for SA Health and 100 million for the federal government’s National Medical Stockpile. “With this new testing facility, we will be able to deliver this medical equipment to hospitals within weeks, substantially faster than previously,” Pisoni said.

Professor Karen Reynolds, Director of the Medical Device Partnering Program and Dean (Research) in the College of Science and Engineering at Flinders, said the facility will carry out research to ensure the protective equipment used by health professionals keeps them safe. “In order to protect our vital hospital staff, face masks have to meet rigorous standards — they need to filter out bacteria, resist blood, withstand wear and tear, and yet still be easy to breathe through,” Professor Reynolds said.

Alf Ianniello, Chief Executive Officer of Detmold Group, said these face masks need to be tested to strict Australian standards to protect frontline health workers and the testing is usually undertaken in the US. “Given the critical need for Australian manufacturing of masks to ensure adequate supply of personal protective equipment for the medical industry, we cannot afford to wait for our surgical masks to be tested overseas,” Ianniello said.

Production is due to commence in May 2020 and is expected to produce more than 20 million masks each month for local and national markets.

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