Mercury Racing employees are using 3D printers to make a small tool that saves time sowing cloth face masks used in the COVID-19 fight.

Three employees, working at home because of the pandemic, answered the call after a Milwaukee hospital posted a pattern and instructions to sew the cloth masks. The process uses bias tape to form the strings for the mask, which the user wraps around their head or ears. With a bias tape tool, the manufacturing movies quickly. Without the tool, the process is time consuming.

Steve Wynveen, a development engineering manager at Mercury Racing, explains why the process was available in the Mercury Racing’s blog:

“Bias tape has a bit of springiness to it because of the 45-degree weave angle,” he said. “The tool we are 3D printing is a funnel that folds the tape back onto itself, so that when it exits the tool, it can be fed right into a sewing machine, or be ironed flat.”

Bias tape tools are readily available, but with the stay-at-home orders, it could take several days for the part to be delivered. Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin put out an appeal for masks, hand-sewn masks, eye protection and hand sanitizer.

Wynveen brought in development engineering manager Chris Jenks and technician David Dins to manufacturer the bias tape tool on their home 3D printers. Wynveen found a bias tape tool that could be 3D printed and reached out to two Facebook groups coordinating the sewing of masks in Wisconsin. He offered the tool to the groups and since then the Mercury Racing trio has been printing the bias tape tool nonstop.

“We are printing 30-piece nests of four-centimeter and five-centimeter formers,” Wynveen said in the blog post. “I picked that nest size as it’s about a 12-hour print, which best lines up with our human sleep schedules, and gets us 60 pieces per machine, per day.”

As of April 9, they had printed 600 bias tape tools to the sewing groups. Usually the part is mass produced using an injection-molded part but time is of the essence and the 3D printing is a faster solution.

“I know it sounds cliché, but it really does feel good to help in the fight against this pandemic,” Wynveen said.