ISLANDIA, N.Y. — A decentralized manufacturing system from Swiss company Mikron could help boost the supply of protective face masks, putting them within reach of more people. The scalable system fits in a 20-foot shipping container and can produce 50-100 face masks per minute, according to a release from Mikron and its development partner on the project, Festo. The container can also act as a clean room, the release said.

Mikron’s factory-in-a-box could be located in front of a hospital, next to a shopping center, or near a school. An integrated air-conditioning system with air purification filters is said to make production possible in places with high risk of viral contamination. With adequate raw materials, the system can operate autonomously for more than two hours, the release said.

“This reduces the number of people required to operate the system, and as a result, lowers the risk of infection,” said Nils Rödel, general manager of Mikron Berlin, in the release. “The mini factory can produce protective masks in remote areas or even in crisis zones, where meeting hygiene standards is most challenging.”

According to the manufacturer, it would be possible to produce two million protective mouth-nose masks each month with just one system. The masks are based on melt-blown non-woven fabric, which consists of numerous layers of fine fibers, and thus filter out even the smallest particles, such as bacteria and viruses from the air, the release said.

“Using official statistics, we calculated that medical personnel in Germany alone need at least 50 million disposable protective mouth-nose masks per month,” said Rödel. “We could meet this demand with 25 containers.”

Eliminating the need for transport makes the end product less costly. The system, depending on how it is configured, can make packs of 10 masks or individual ones, shrink-wrapped for cleanliness, and packaged in printed bags and boxes if required. “Packaging masks involves docking an automated station developed by pi4_robotics GmbH, Berlin, a project partner,” said Rödel.

Electric and pneumatic components from Festo are said to ensure reliable transport, clamping, unwinding, shaping, and folding for the non-woven fabric. An ultrasonic sealing station seals the edges. The servo drives CMMT from Festo for controlling the electric drives.  EMMT are used in the application because they can be easily connected to PLCs from major manufacturers, including Beckhoff, Siemens, and Rockwell, the release said.

Pneumatic components from the Festo core product range, such as the compact cylinder ADN, the guided drive DFM, and the round cylinder DSNU, are installed in the system. They are in stock worldwide and available for shipment within 24 hours. Global availability enables quick and reliable manufacture of systems for producing masks within a condensed timeframe.

The pneumatic drives are actuated by MPA valves. The safety valve MS6-SV-E ensures that safety-critical system components are exhausted and de-energized as quickly as possible in the event of a sudden emergency stop, the release said. Thanks to its international production and sales network, products from Festo are quickly available in 176 countries and enable systems to be built at locations around the world. This is in keeping with the global open-source approach of Project CAROLA, which provided the impetus for designing the mask production system in a shipping container, the release said.

“The current travel restrictions make it extremely difficult for commissioning technicians to go where the systems are to be built,” said Rödel. “Mikron came up with a digitized solution. We use Microsoft HoloLens, which enables commissioning to be done virtually, using an interactive 3D projection.”

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