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Mini production lines in containers help produce protective masks


June 17, 2020  


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A compact manufacturing system from Mikron developed with Festo pneumatic and electric components is helping meet the burgeoning global demand for disposable face masks.

This new scalable, open source system can produce 50-100 protective mouth-nose masks per minute or up to two million per month. With Festo contributing engineering support, it was developed in just six weeks instead of the usual six months.

The beauty of Mikron’s system is that it fits in a 20-foot shipping container, which can also act as a clean room. It can be located where it’s most needed – at a hospital or school or shopping centre, in major cities or remote locations. The integrated air-conditioning system with air purification filters means production is even possible in places with an elevated risk of viral contamination.

“Normally, you’d need six months to build systems of this size”, says Nils Rödel, general manager of Mikron Berlin. However, in the current situation, time was of the essence. Mikron designers and fitters spent a week developing a 3D model. For actual assembly, Festo assured its componentry was ready for installation. “Integrating and commissioning the electric drive solutions as well as connecting them to a Beckhoff PLC was so quick and easy,” says Rödel. “The Festo Automation Suite software made integrating and commissioning the CMMT servo drives child’s play.”

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These mouth-nose protection masks are comprised of multiple layers of melt-blown, non-woven fabric made of fine fibres and capable of filtering out even tiny particles such as bacteria and viruses. Mikron estimates that the German medical system alone needs 50 million of this type of mask per month.

Electric and pneumatic components from Festo provide motion for key process steps, like clamping, folding, shaping and sealing. The CMMT drives that control EMMT electric motors can be easily connected to PLCs from a range of manufacturers, including Beckhoff, Siemens and Rockwell.

Key pneumatic components come from Festo’s core product range, including ADN compact cylinders, DFM guided drives and DSNU round cylinders. (Core product range components are attractively priced, stocked worldwide and available for delivery within 24 hours.) The pneumatic drives are actuated by MPA valves. MS6-SV-E safety valves ensure that safety-critical system components are exhausted and de-energized exceedingly fast in the event of an emergency stop.

Mask production also can be routed to the larger consumer market. The system can be configured to make shrink-wrapped packets of a single or 10 masks, and then bagged or boxed if desired by docking an automated packaging station from pi4.robotics.

Thanks to its international production and sales network, Festo assures fast delivery of its products in 176 countries. That means these mask assembly systems can be built locally in keeping with the open-source approach of the non-profit Project CAROLA (www.projectcarola.org) of which Mikron, Festo and pi4.robotics are corporate participants.

The system has to be easy to commission wherever it is assembled. Current travel restrictions make it hard for Mikron technicians to go on site. Instead, says Rödel, they do it virtually, using HoloLens, which enables commissioning to be done via an interactive 3D projection.


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