Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has applauded the quick thinking and hard work of a local business owner who set up a face mask production company in just weeks as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following the outbreak of the virus, Stockton-based Zoe Walton called on connections she had made over the years with some of the biggest national and local research, innovation and development companies, including, BDI Lab, BSI, KW Special Projects, BDS Solidworks and the Tees Valley’s own TWI.
The collaboration has seen them set up Respo Response Laboratory, which is set to produce 100% recyclable full and half-face masks that sit between low-cost disposable face masks and heavy duty respirators.
Since 1946, TWI has been at the forefront of global research and innovation across all aspects of manufacturing and fabrication and has developed a reputation as a world-leader in the development of new joining methods such as state-of-the-art welding technologies.
As part of the region’s response to the coronavirus, TWI’s researchers stepped in to help accelerate the mask’s path to market. Scientists simulated inhale and exhale airflow rates through the mask, focusing on the pressure drop across the filter, to prove how efficient the mask is at doing its job.
Respo has recently submitted its face masks for health and safety CE mark approval ahead of them being offered for sale to Government, to be distributed to frontline key health and social care workers across the UK. It is also looking for licensees in other countries to roll the masks out to as many vulnerable people around the globe as possible.
Mayor Houchen said: “We’ve heard lots of stories of people pulling together and acting fast in response to the unprecedented coronavirus situation, but Zoe’s quick thinking and hard work for our vital key health and social care workers is amazing.
“She knew what she had to do to help and has gone from a standing start to producing masks and getting them ready for approval in less than two months.
“We have some fantastic businesses and business leaders in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, as well as some world-leading research institutions. This shows that when they come together, they can make a real difference, especially in these difficult times.”
Zoe said: “I am immensely proud and grateful for all the significant support from across the region and also nationally. This has been done out of passion for this region and support for our national health system – the creation of Respolab was out of desire to make a difference in these troubling times and we will continue to support where ever we can.”
Speaking on behalf of the TWI Innovation Network (TWIIN), Tat-Hean Gan, Director of Innovation and Skills at TWI said: “When Zoe came to us with the idea to produce the masks, and asked if we could lend her our expertise, we had no hesitation in coming on board.
“TWIIN collaborates through a partnership approach to enable advanced engineering solutions that meet the needs of industry, and are game changers in bringing forward technical developments that enable new products to become a reality. Our experts are very happy to have played a role in developing these masks, to help those on the front line fight the coronavirus.”