University of Pittsburgh
January 28, 2002

Pitt's Swanson Center to Aid WTC Rescuers Center "Reserve Engineered" Respirator Mask Mold for Local Companies

Contact:  412-624-4147

January 29, 2002

PITTSBURGH—With the enormous need for respirators to filter out airborne contaminants at "ground zero" in New York City, a leading manufacturer of safety equipment, Mine Safety Appliance Co., sought the assistance of the John A. Swanson Center for Product Innovation in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Engineering to keep up with the increased demand.

Mine Safety Appliance's supplier, Crescent Industries, manufactures the MSA Advantage 200 Respirator one mask at a time using a single cavity injection mold. Through the years, modifications to the mold rendered the original design specifications obsolete, which meant that there was no quick way to fabricate another identical mold to speed up production of the respirators.

"Crescent Industries tried in the past to duplicate the surfaces of the tool with other contractors who were unsuccessful," says James DiPasquale, the Swanson Center's engineering manager. "Crescent never received any surface data that would enable them to cut new steel molds that would be identical to the existing mold."

"Mine Safety Appliance Co. has shipped millions of dollars of supplies to New York for the recovery effort," says Gerald Holder, USX Dean of Engineering at the University. "The Swanson Center's state-of-the-art technology and devoted staff have rapidly made the re-production of safety equipment molds possible."

To quickly generate the three-dimensional, computer-aided, design (3-D CAD) data necessary to duplicate the existing mold, the engineers at Crescent sent the actual mold to the Swanson Center for measurements.

Working around the clock during the week of Thanksgiving in order to minimize the production downtime at Crescent, the Swanson Center staff "reverse engineered" the existing mold data using three state-of-the-art machines to map the respirator mold to exact detail.

Two of machines—the Cyclone and the Gauge 2000—use touch probes that define the surface geometry of the object being measured with extreme accuracy. The third machine, the Digibot laser scanner, is a three-dimensional digitizer. The Digibot directs a laser at the product being examined and slowly, methodically turns the item so that the laser touches every nook and cranny of the surface.

Andrew Holmes, manager of the Rapid Manufacturing Lab within the Swanson Center, imported the 3-D data captured during the scanning process into a high-end software program, then generated surfaces that can easily be imported into a 3-D CAD program.

"The reason we used multiple technologies is because you can't get all the information you need from a single measurement source," says DiPasquale.

The Swanson Center staff has completed the measurement portion of their work and is now combining the data while working with the staff at Crescent Industries to finalize the solid models for the mold, allowing for the quick integration of a new mold to the production line in the coming weeks.

"I am proud that the School of Engineering has been able to contribute to this project that will have an impact on the people of New York and enhance the safety of the rescue workers who are putting their lives in danger every day," says Holder.