Missing facial expressions, acoustic problems and hardly any wearing comfort: In the current peak holiday season, the prescribed protective mask is becoming a real test of strength, especially on rail and air connections where masking is mandatory - for passengers and public transport operators in equal measure. Because: "The cramped space situation - especially in airplanes and trains - also presents economic challenges for operators," emphasize HTS Managing Director Johann Harer and ACstyria Managing Director Christa Zengerer in agreement. The development of a Styrian consortium of the two clusters should now provide a remedy. The "Flight Mask", as the concept is called, pursues a modular structure and expandability of the mask according to customer needs. Central elements are a generous viewing window - for more transparency, especially at airports - and increased wearing comfort through thermally deformable and skin-friendly seals. This also prevents the mask from slipping during speech due to mouth and chin movements. As an option, the Styrian development can be equipped with a high-tech ventilator to ventilate the mask interior - a significant advantage especially on long-distance flights.
"Many Styrian companies have responded to the challenges of the Corona crisis with innovative ideas. The 'Flight Mask' is another example of how excellent cooperation between the local clusters, research institutions and companies is practiced. And it is precisely in the health sector that the added value of research for the individual can be experienced directly", emphasizes Barbara Eibinger-Miedl, Styrian Minister for Economic Affairs, who initiated a platform for medical protective equipment at the very beginning of the corona crisis.
Thomas Saier, Managing Director of the Lebring-based design studio Edera Safety, which is responsible for the development of the new generation of mouth-and-nose protectors, emphasizes: "A modular structure is pursued in the production process, which will promptly amortize investments for production using injection molds. With this concept, we are taking on an absolute pioneering role internationally". Maintaining high safety standards - while maintaining comfort - in public transportation is also crucial for long-term success. "The Styrian innovation symbiosis of medical technology and mobility can provide a worldwide foundation in this respect", emphasizes HTS Managing Director Harer. According to ACstyria boss Zengerer, the initiative shows once again "how the innovative Styrian mobility and health companies are shaping the future."
Savings in the millions
The high potential is confirmed by the demand of the market: Graz Airport and ÖBB have announced that they will evaluate the "Flight Mask" in operations: "As an innovative mobility service provider, we have joined the project consortium and intend to use the mask in rail traffic - at least in pilot projects - before the end of this year. We are curious to see how the masks will be evaluated in practical tests by our train attendants," says ÖBB's local traffic manager Roman Miklautz. Airport Graz Director Gerhard Widmann also supports the project: "We are observing the development in this field with great interest and would be pleased if a practicable and safe application for travellers is achievable". Improvements are also anticipated from an economic point of view: The final price of the mask, which should be about 50 euros, promises the large mobility companies - in an initial analysis - a savings potential of several million euros per year compared to disposable protection. The reusable "Flight Mask" is expected to last up to six months and beyond with simple disinfection and cleaning - and with the expertise of Styrian reprocessing specialists Christof Industries and TDK, it will also prevent several tons of waste caused by conventional disposable masks.
Up to 100.000 pieces per year
The product should be ready for series production soon: A corresponding prototype is being developed with the help of the Styrian Business Promotion Agency SFG, and FH JOANNEUM is contributing a research project to further potential. The first small series is currently being developed before Edera Safety plans to produce up to 100,000 units of the new mask generation per year: The consortium also plans to use the masks in the service sector - for example in the catering business - as well as in bank and post office branches, explains the consortium.