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TZero's ingenuity creates more masks for Mount Nittany Health


Brothers Stephen and Nick Wells and their partner Eli Hughes are the founders of TZero, a sensor technology and data company with a focus on microbrewing. TZero has a national presence, but as luck would have it, is a locally owned business committed to serving its community.

When the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced, these tech gurus wanted to help but weren't sure how their skills could best serve any current need. "We live by a motto at TZero that we learned from our business partner and investor, which is to take care of the people that take care of the company. We believe this extends beyond the walls of our office to our community," shares Nick Wells, TZero co-founder.

Nick watched a video of a World Health Organization (WHO) doctor discussing personal protective equipment (PPE) and the spread of the virus. The doctor explained how surgical masks are worn to protect healthcare workers by creating a physical barrier around the mouth and nose. Surgical masks are fluid resistant and provide the wearer protection against large droplets, splashes or splatter that could contain the novel coronavirus, and are typically multi-layered with non-woven materials. Inner layers are made of materials to filter out particles. The filtration level of a mask depends on the strength and bulk of the fiber.

As he continued to watch the WHO video, Nick suddenly realized that the mask structure and material resembled the way spill mats operate in breweries. Spill mats are constructed of highly durable, highly absorbent fine-fiber material and would, Nick thought, make an above-average replacement for non-woven materials used in surgical masks. The TZero crew could make things expertly and quickly with access to laser cutters and 3-D printers.

"If we have the resources and the abilities, we should help our community as much as possible, especially during these extremely uncertain times," shares Nick. He and his fellow co-founders believed they could manufacture surgical masks with the spill mats the company had on hand. The TZero founders knew they could produce high-quality surgical masks that, while not FDA approved, would provide better protection than cloth masks. Through their manufacturing, the company could help bridge the gap for needed PPE while supply chains and manufacturers ramped up to meet the demand caused by the pandemic.

Within hours of watching the WHO video, TZero had produced a prototype surgical mask made from spill mats. Once the prototype was finalized, TZero, along with the help from some close friends, was able to manufacture 1,200 masks in a matter of days. The majority were donated to Mount Nittany Health, extending our PPE supplies. The TZero crew also gave masks to first responders and to friends and family members who are at higher risk of infection due to underlying health conditions.

"The outpouring of support from our community is deeply appreciated by our frontline staff. We are incredibly grateful to TZero for their ingenuity, generosity and rapid response to provide Mount Nittany Health with PPE,” states Simon Corby, executive director, Mount Nittany Health Foundation.

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