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While anxieties rise over reports of a low supply of ventilators and masks during the Covid-19 pandemic, one Yellowknife man is trying to make things easier for people on the frontlines of the shortages.

In his spare time, Eric McNair-Landry manufactures head clips that attach to protective masks worn by health professionals for most of the day. 

A health care worker at Stanton Territorial Hospital wears the Mask Tension Reliever brace printed off by Eric McNair-Landry. photo courtesy of Facebook

Unlike regular masks that wrap around the ears, his Mask Tension Relievers “take the strain off the ears (and) make a big difference. This device just wraps around the head and sits behind your ears and it’s got a space where the (mask) strap goes through,” he told NNSL Media.

“(I made them) because I could and it’s better than sitting around and listening to the news continuously.” 

Shareable design

But McNair-Landry says the design for the tension reliever isn’t his. He found it on the Thingiverse portal, a voluminous online library of 3D printing designs. 

Typing “covid” into that site’s search engine yields hundreds of designs for face masks, goggles, corornavirus-related art and other items.

Thingiverse and other similar sites function under the Creative Commons protocol, allowing designs to be shared, modified and printed out without worrying about patent violations. 

The 3D printer is working on face shields, with some tension relievers on display. Eric McNair-Landry photo

“The joy with these printing libraries is that one can person can design something and then another person can print it off. It can become like a Wikipedia project. I could improve a design and then re-upload that to the internet and others can start printing that, and then other people can improve on that,” McNair-Landry said.

Positive response from wearers

In late March he and his wife Katherine Breen, a doctor at Stanton Territorial Hospital began printing off different head brace models and she would take them into work and offer them to colleagues to try out. 

“They loved them,” McNair-Landry said. 

“There are a lot of orders for them. We’re up to about 120 now. They’re cheap enough that you could use them once and throw them out but they’re also easy to clean (and reuse).”

Most of the 120 he has already printed off are in use by health care professionals. He said he has also seen some grocery store workers and taxi drivers using the same type of mask. 

“I imagine there’s (interest) beyond the hospital,” he said. 

Cheap and simple

The braces are made of polylactic acid (PLA), which McNair-Landry said is similar to compostable forks found at summer markets and are biodegradable. 

McNair-Landry, left, poses with his son Peregrine in front of the 3D printer in his home. Eric McNair-Landry photo

One brace costs 50 to 60 cents to make and it takes about 45 minutes for his 3D printer to print it off. There are also electricity costs and his own time involved in the effort, but he seems uninterested in making profit from the braces. 

McNair-Landry has considered printing off different types of personal protective equipment like masks, but more sophisticated materials intended for medical use raise issues of liability and risk and he’s unsure if he’ll branch out into that area.

“We know that there’ll be a need for them but we don’t know if the hospital will want them or if pharmacies or other places might want them,” he said.

A polar adventurer who likes to design things

The stay-at-home dad was just as modest when he mentioned what he did before he became a father. 

“I used to be a polar explorer,” he said, hugely understating his achievements, such as being named along with his sister Sarah as Adventurers of the Year in 2008 by National Geographic. Their father is Paul Landry, himself a record-setting polar adventurer, mountaineer and canoeist. 

When Eric was only 20 and Sarah 18 they skied to the South Pole and later did a double crossing of the Greenland Ice Cap. He has also kite-skied many thousands of kilometres during expeditions and crossed the Gobi Desert, and undertaken many other feats. 

But he didn’t linger on his adventures and the last thing he told NNSL Media was that if other people in the community are collaborating on useful 3D printing designs he would love to hear from them.

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Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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