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Article: Orbitform Medical building N95 mask-sanitizer machine for hospitals

April 2020


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The tool-and-die manufacturing company owned by state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey has developed a portable cabinet with ultraviolent lights to sanitize N95 respirator masks that are in short supply in hospitals facing a surge of coronavirus patients. Orbitform Medical, LLC has begun manufacturing and selling the stainless-steel box lined with UV lights inside that provide "a heavy duty dose of ultraviolet light" to kill bacteria on used N95 masks, company President Phil Sponsler said.


The Jackson-based company, which makes riveting, forming and fastening machines for the auto, aerospace and medical industries, engineered the mask-sanitizing box after studying research about the use of UV lights to kill bacteria on a respirator mask so it can be reused, Sponsler said.


Orbitform Medical, LLC was created as an independent subsidiary to offer medical related products. "We're getting calls and in discussions with people who are hanging their N95 masks on clothes lines in a room with a UV light that's 3 feet away for 30 minutes and then they come back in and they rotate the mask and they expose it for another 30 minutes," Sponsler told Crain's. The stainless steel cabinet on caster wheels contains eight 2-foot-long UV lights and racks to hold ten N95 masks at once. Masks are exposed to UV lights for 15 minutes, a time-frame Shirkey is pushing his engineers to lower for faster turnover.


"The reflective characteristics of the stainless steel are going to help to cover the mask (with UV light) from many angles," Sponsler said.


Henry Ford Hospital and hospitals in Colorado and California have ordered Orbitform's mask-sanitizing cabinets, Sponsler said. A clinical nurse manager at Henry Ford Allegiance Health, also located in Jackson, Michigan, visited Orbitform's factory and gave the company's engineers input about the size of sanitizer cabinet, it's operating process, and electrical needs. "We are very grateful to have responsive, resourceful community partners like Orbitform Medical," the clinical nurse manager said in a statement. "Their expertise is highly valued." The sanitizer box runs on 110 amp electricity that can be plugged in to most hospital wall electrical outlets, Sponsler said. Sponsler stressed that Orbitform Medical cannot make any claim about the effectiveness of the enclosed UV light system. "We're not currently going to make any claims with this system," he said "We know it's based on good science."


But unlike the makeshift UV light systems some nurses and doctors are utilizing, there's no exposure to harmful ultraviolent lights when the masks are inside the enclosed chamber, Sponsler said. "We believe that it's extremely safe," he said. Shirkey said he's working to get the machine tested by an independent lab to prove it kills bacteria on medical masks. "We've had plenty of inquiries and they all want to know if it's been 'certified,'" Shirkey said. "Of course, we have to explain that we haven't had time to do that. But it's based on mountains of research. So it's just a matter of time. I believe there will be some early adapters pretty quickly." Because of the parts and machines Orbitform builds, Sponsler said the company has been identified as an essential supplier by 30 different customers and has remained in operation during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's 2-week-old stay-at-home order for nonessential workers. Jake Sponsler, an Orbitform vice president, engineer and Phil Sponsler's nephew, designed the first version of the cabinet on March 21 and March 22.


Within days, Orbitform's materials group — headed by Mike Shirkey's brother, Mark — was sourcing hard-to-find materials such as the UV light bulbs and then the company's steel fabricators and electrical engineers built a prototype, Phil Sponsler said. Mike Shirkey's son, David, is one of the leaders on the project in the 115-employee family-run business. "It was just a tremendous all-hands-on-deck, work-through-the-weekend type effort has been going on in late hours," Phil Sponsler said. "Because we're looking at it saying we've got a lot of friends and relatives that work in the medical industry and we don't want them to be wearing dirty masks."



About the Mask-Sanitizer:


The Mask-Sanitizer is a Portable On-Site Face Mask Disinfection Chamber for disposable face masks. The disinfection method is eight (8) germicidal UV-C bulbs positioned in front of and behind the N95 face masks. 10 face masks can be disinfected during each 15-minute cycle. The Mask-Sanitizer can be used at hospitals, fire stations, police stations, nursing homes, etc., and can be located near the actual point of use. One or more mask-sanitizers can be located at each station, department, wing, hallway or emergency room, so there is no need to handle and disinfect mass numbers of masks at a central or off-site location. The Mask-Sanitizer is simple to operate, easy to roll around, and versatile enough to be transported in the back of a minivan or SUV.

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