Clear face mask breakthrough now in use at Addenbrooke’s Hospital
The first 900 clear face masks have been delivered to Addenbrooke’s Hospital by LJA Miers, which designs and manufactures the revolutionary product.
The face mask recently received EN14683 approval, confirming that the product meets all the requirements to be used for medical usage (Type II R), and are initially being used mainly in the audiology department, says Tony Barber, commercial director at manufacturer LJA Miers.
“We’ve just started production, we’re in the ramp-up phase at the moment,” explains Tony. “Once we’re fully up and running consumers will be able to buy the mask online, but you can buy a box of 50 today.
“We’ve started to ship to NHS customers, Addenbrooke’s has had 900 so far. They’re using it in places like audiology: we’d expect it to be more widely used once people see it.”
LJA Miers is a family-owned company established in 1954 in Stratford, then moved to Gamlingay before arriving in St Neots in the mid-1980s. The current managing director, Andrew Miers, is the third from the family. The specialist parts supplier manufactures for markets including automotive, marine, aerospace and construction – but the business model was repurposed after the first lockdown last March.
“All our customers ceased trading for between eight and 12 weeks,” says Tony, “so we repurposed our manufacturing capability to support the NHS.”
The first product was a clear visor.
“The visors came about because looking at the manufacturing processes and capabilities we had, with the backdrop being what the NHS required at that time, we identified that the quickest route was to make a visor and organise the materials required. It was the only medical product we’d made at that point.”
Like the clear mask, the visor is a single-use product.
“We’re now making 400k visors a week,” Tony continues, “the vast majority for the NHS. And we’re very very proud of the fact that none of our manufacturing colleagues was placed on furlough and indeed we’ve had to take on extra staff at times as well.
“Our core business has now returned and we are continually adding automation to our visor production.”
The clear face mask had seemed an unlikely technical feat, but it has happened and, with 11 million visors now shipped, Miers understood the challenges involved – and the potential, not least for those with hearing difficulties.
“There’s a clear PRT [polyethylene terephthalate] part around the nose and face,” says Tony, “ so you can see the expression, because lip-reading is more than watching the mouth, it’s the whole expression.
“The white fabric part is the traditional face mask filter material which is tested to the required bacterial filtration efficiency – that’s EN14683 approval. It fits completely flush to the cheek. It’s a three-ply material just under the chin which is sourced from a UK partner – everything was sourced from the UK, that was quite important to us.
“All the components are supplied in rolls – the clear PET, glue, foam, plastic, the fabric... So we laminate and cut and shape them and then bring the parts back together, for instance sticking the foam to the PET.
“The product meets all the requirements to be used for medical usage – Type II R – and as such gives more robust protection.”
The clear mask means Miers has got off to a great start in 2021.
“We’re happy to talk to anybody,” concludes Tony, “both big and small businesses, because ultimately we’re helping people, which also happens to be a great way to help our sales.”
– To get your free weekly Cambridge Independent news and features update sent directly to your inbox click here.