Providing Backup in the COVID-19 Fight

Jefferson alumni use embroidery equipment to help ease PPE shortage.

In the matter of a few days, Jefferson alumni Topher Anderson and Gaige DeHaven turned the research-and-development arm of ZSK Stickmaschinen into a personal protective equipment-making factory.

“There’s a need, and we need to help fill that need,” says DeHaven, design researcher at ZSK, an embroidery equipment manufacturer. “The end goal is to help people.”

Jefferson alumni Gaige DeHaven and Topher Anderson work on masks
Alumni Gaige DeHaven and Topher Anderson retooled the equipment at ZSK Stickmaschinen to produce PPE.

As the COVID-19 pandemic swelled, Anderson and DeHaven realized they could use their experience and knowledge to retool the company’s equipment to produce much-needed masks and filters for respirators. They demonstrated the process, including sterilization, on LinkedIn and YouTube and solicited feedback on ways to improve and fine-tune their concept.

Anderson and DeHaven tested 25 iterations, using some materials donated by their local Seattle community during the early design stages. (Washington state had the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States.)

“Our equipment allows us to produce over 1,000 masks a day—and hopefully more soon with cooperation with the rest of the embroidery community,” says Anderson, ZSK’s technical embroidery manager, who earned his BSE in engineering and PhD in textile engineering and sciences at Jefferson.

Their final mask design uses a multilayer fabrication that acts as a filtration barrier against liquid and airborne particulates. They added a metal nosepiece covered in foam for a better seal around the nose and against the face. “We want it to be comfortable, reliable and practical,” says DeHaven, a 2019 industrial design graduate.

Embroidery equipment at ZSK
The equipment at Seattle's ZSK office allows them to produce 1,000 masks a day—and hopefully more soon.

The alumni are sourcing finalized materials for their upcoming medical certification testing.

“This will allow us to test the efficiency of our mask and potentially certify them for medical use,” DeHaven says.

The results will determine where their PPE goes, but regardless, Anderson believes he had to join the cause with other textile and design experts against COVID-19—and he hopes more businesses follow suit.

“Maybe your company makes SMS polypropylene fabric? Maybe you can research fabric effectiveness on the side, or perhaps you can network communities together?” he says. “There are a lot of different opportunities if you want to make an impact here.”

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