A few years ago, Tom Moulton ‘77 had a bad experience with a paper face mask. You know, the disposable kind that you might use if you had a cold and were heading out, or like Moulton, found yourself on a demolition job site.
For most people, they would have thrown the mask away and that would have been the end of it. For Moulton, it was a beginning. Already a world leader in the manufacture of sleep apnea masks, Moulton came up with the idea to make a better face mask. One that can be used again and again. One that is comfortable and has a better seal. That doesn’t leave marks on your face.
“Our doctors and nurses are going into battle every day on the front lines with no ammunition. We can fix that.”
“Necessity being the mother of invention, I knew there had to be a better way,” Moulton says of his foray into making particulate-filtering face shields.
He wasn’t going out on a very long limb: Sleepnet Corporation, his Hampton, New Hampshire-based company, has been making sleep masks for 30 years. In 2019, they began testing the Envo, a reusable plastic mask with disposable paper inserts, aimed at the time primarily at the trades industry.
Then came the coronavirus, leading to the mass shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and Moulton shifted gears. He ramped up production of N95 masks for use by doctors and nurses on the frontline of the fight against COVID 19. During the first week of April, Sleepnet shipped more than 20,000 of the Envo masks.
The Envo mask was approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in August 2019. Sleepnet sells directly to hospitals, fire and police departments, first responders, EMTs and federal, state and government agencies. Each box includes a mask, five disposable filters, headgear and a storage case. The company has also been producing ventilator masks for 15 years.
Utilizing the technology of the sleep apnea mask, the Envo is made with a soft cushion of Sleepnet’s patented AIRgel®, which creates a form-fitting seal around the face.
“It’s softer than human fat issue so when it forms a seal, it doesn’t leave marks,” Moulton says. “Put on paper mask; most people don’t last 15 minutes. You can wear an Envo mask all day and not even think about it.” But more importantly, he says, the face masks offer healthcare professionals the protection they need against threats to their own safety like those posed by the coronavirus.
Moulton has photos of the N95 masks being used in hospitals and has posted them around the plant so his employees can see how their efforts are making a difference.
“Everyone in our company is working overtime and every job is essential. It’s inspiring, and it validates what we are doing,” he says. “Our doctors and nurses are going into battle every day on the front lines with no ammunition. We can fix that.”