Joint efforts are under way to produce masks that are transparent around the mouth to help people who read lips to communicate, as well as for those working in the service industry, a mask producer said yesterday.
The Industrial Development Bureau and the Taiwan Textile Research Institute have designed the new masks after being approached by the nonprofit Dandelion Hearing Association, which works with speech and hearing-impaired people, institute research director Huang Po-hsiung (黃博雄) said.
The only transparent protective face coverings on the market are the face shields worn by people working in the food and beverage industry, he said.
Photo courtesy of Taiwan Textile Research Institute research director Huang Po-hsiung
While shields are useful in preventing the user from spraying droplets onto food, they cannot prevent the spread of viruses, he said.
Association director Hsieh Li-fang (謝莉芳) said that she has been importing transparent masks from Italy at US$7 each.
However, those masks have been found to be largely ineffective in preventing the spread of diseases, Hsieh said.
She approached bureau Deputy Director Wang Li-chu (王麗珠) to inquire about purchasing such masks locally, Hsieh said.
Wang then discussed the issue with Huang and the two resolved to develop a solution, Huang said.
“The crux of the issue in developing [a transparent] mask was ensuring that the seam where the plastic film meets the non-woven fabric blocks viruses,” she said.
The team also had to use a new machine to produce the masks, whose design cost NT$10 million (US$338,501), she said.
The government would subsidize part of the funding to design and produce the masks, but manufacturers had been willing to start working on the products even before subsidies were proposed, which was touching to see, Huang said.
Taiwan Comfort Champ Manufacturing Co (台灣康匠) general manager Chen Yung-chih (陳勇志) said that his factory can manufacture 100 traditional non-woven masks per minute, but added that transparent masks would be produced at a much slower rate, as part of them must be added by hand.
Transparent masks were designed with one-third the differential pressure of conventional medical masks to allow the wearer to breathe comfortably, and they use non-reflective transparent film to facilitate communication, he said.
There are five handmade versions of the mask, and manufacturers hope they will be made for as little NT$8 each once mass production begins, Chen said, adding that the masks are expected to hit the market by the end of this year.
The masks might also be adopted by the service industry to allow for more personal interactions with customers, he said.
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