2 friends invent mask sterilising machine

Schoolmates get innovative after being issued a challenge by the local authorities

GEORGE TOWN – Penang-born and British educated doctor Dr Wu Lien-teh fought the 1911 Manchurian/Mongolian plague which reportedly killed up to 60,000 lives. He was credited with designing a face mask which formed the basis of today’s N95 face masks.

N95 stands for a 95% form of protection against bacteria that spreads through the air.

Fast forward some 110 years later, two Penang-born engineers have come together to develop what is believed to be the country’s first-ever automated fabric mask steriliser device. The masks would be fully sterilised by using three processes of bacteria extinguishing.

It can then be reused with a sense of confidence by the wearer.

Industrialist Datuk Lee Teong Li and his associate Peter Chung took six months to come up with this device, in a race to fight off the Covid-19 pandemic.

The hybrid device sterilises fabric masks in under 75 seconds through steaming, sterilisation, and drying. – IAN MCINTYRE/The Vibes pic

The duo has something in common with Dr Wu, they have the country’s oldest school – Penang Free School – to call their alma mater.

It all started on a dare last year from the Seberang Prai City Council and Lord Mayor Datuk Rozali Mohamud on how fast can masks be sterilised in the face of the rising Covid-19 infections.

They were attending a social event with Rozali, who remarked that the compulsory wearing of face masks is necessary. But how best to sanitise them against bacteria?

Peter Chung showing how to load the mask into the steriliser machine. – IAN MCINTYRE/The Vibes pic
Peter Chung showing how to load the mask into the steriliser machine. – IAN MCINTYRE/The Vibes pic

Lee, a Federation of Malaysian Manufacturing northern chapter vice-chairman, became inquisitive over the matter last July. After cracking his head with Chung, they came up with this device.

They were also driven by a need to conserve the environment.

“Imagine the tonnes of face masks, particularly surgical ones left in our solid waste system. Even if we can recycle them, it would take ages,” said Chung in an interview.

Chung said that the machine was also tailored to meet the specifications by the World Health Organisation on what is best needed to sterilise the face masks.

Most importantly, fabric masks can be reused compared to the surgical types, which must be discarded after a 24-hour use.

It is handy to transport as it can fit into the boot of a car. – IAN MCINTYRE/The Vibes pic
It is handy to transport as it can fit into the boot of a car. – IAN MCINTYRE/The Vibes pic

Chung pointed out that bacteria will converge on any face mask covering within four hours of use. So, if one requires immediate sterilisation, the device is a good fit.

“We wanted to try out the surgical masks, but the heat intensity was too much. It tore apart. But for fabrics, it works excellently.”

Pending approval from the SIRIM authorities for a patent, Chung said that he felt compelled to share this positive account in the face of many depressing tales emerging of late.

“Well, the country continues to record worrying rates of infections, we just need to be innovative in fighting the bug. I hope the device can help at least instil confidence in the wearer that the mask can be cleaned in less than a minute.”

They have formed a company called Green Eazy Tech Sdn Bhd to market the device and to provide awareness on how to use it. They aim to reduce dependence on surgical masks, which they say is best left for healthcare workers to use rather than the pubic

The hybrid device sterilises masks in under 75 seconds through steaming, sterilisation, and drying.

The steam process is carried out above 100°C while the sterilisation is done through UV-C and finally, the mask is dried with heated air above 100°C.

The machine is ideal for congested workplaces such as offices, hotels, factories and other premises that have large numbers of workers who must use face masks regularly, said Lee.

It is handy to transport as it can fit into the boot of a car.

Lee said that the device also has an efficiency rating of 82.9% for bacteria filtration.

By : IAN MCINTYRE – THE VIBES

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