The spreading coronavirus means a Germany company is working overtime to produce equipment to make melt-flow, non-woven masks.
The phones are ringing off the hook and emails are flooding in to KMD Plastifizierungstechnik GmbH in Lübeck, said Kevin Duan, project manager.
"Everyone is buying masks because the virus can be passed on," he said in a phone interview. "Melt-flow is very important for the masks. You can't make the masks without melt-flow material."
KMD's melt-blown, non-woven technology uses a single-screw extruder to extrude polypropylene, which then goes through a spinneret that turns the material into fibers. The nano-sized fibers are laid down randomly — non-woven — so they create a barrier. The company launched the technology in February.
By comparison, Duan said that weaving of clothe is unidirectional, using ninety-degree fiber placement, which allows the fabric to breath.
"Everyone wants to buy machines to produce melt-flow fabric," he said. "That's why we get so many orders now. So we have to choose which orders we have to fill."
KMD cannot possibly handle all the orders, and a lot of the requests are from companies just getting into the mask boom because of COVID-19, Duan said. They want a single machine. But he said KMD is prioritizing orders to major medical products customers who will be long-term customers, "because after the coronavirus, the next cooperation is what we care about, to be honest."
Since medical masks can make it hard to breathe, KMD researchers are working on the next generation, called bi-component melt-blown. Filtration and breathability are better than the single-material masks.
"With our bi-component technology, it blocks 99 percent of the virus, but breathing is easier," Duan said. He is involved in the research, using a laboratory line to test and develop new materials.
"The bi-component has a huge improvement, Duan said.
Another research project KMD is working on uses a triple-screw extruder to produce the plastic pellets. KMD's lab has special testing equipment to study the nano-fibers.