Design of the Year 2015
Air+ Smart Masks and Micro Ventilators
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Designer
Innosparks Pte Ltd
Jerome Lee
Gareth Tang
Fong Saik Hay
Karl Erik Birgersson
Daniel Tan
Steven Sak
Li Fuyun
Lin Jin-Jyr
Natalie Lin
Industrial Designer
STUCK Design Pte Ltd
Donn Koh
Lim Chi Yong
Lee Tze Ming
Yong Jieyu
Ng Xin Nie
Cheng Siew Ming
“Applying our engineering and technical skill sets, we focused our design on proper fit and enhanced comfort, and invented the next generation of respirators.”

The adage that necessity is the mother of invention holds true in the case of the AIR+ Smart Mask and the Micro Ventilators.

Over the past decade, the increase in incidences of airborne diseases and air pollution, particularly in Southeast Asia, has resulted in a proliferation of face-masks. These masks are often ill-fitting, impractical and poorly designed, especially when used by young children. Improper fit results in leakage of polluted air into the masks. Even if the masks fit, trapped exhalations raise internal temperatures, moisture and carbon dioxide levels. Wearers are often forced to abandon the masks which leads to further exposure to air pollutants.

The team at Innosparks (a subsidiary of ST Engineering) researched the breathing patterns of individuals and the airflow dynamics that occur within masks when they are worn. The engineers measured the face sizes of Asian adults and children aged seven years and older. The various shapes were modelled on computers and then run through mathematical simulations. Using state-of-the-art 3D printing technology, the team designed prototypes in varying shapes and sizes that could fit a wider range of face profiles. Once the most feasible mask designs were achieved, actual fit tests were conducted on adults and children. The result was a truly differentiated product that offers mask sizes in small, medium and large sizes to fit typical Asian face profiles.

When paired with the Micro Ventilator (the AIR+), the AIR+ Smart Mask eliminates the unpleasant build-up of heat, moisture and carbon dioxide after prolonged use that has hitherto bedeviled conventional masks. In every sense, this is a world’s first, and to bring the prototype to market, Innosparks engaged STUCK on the industrial design front to bring this innovative concept to life.

For Donn Koh, the lead industrial designer at STUCK, this meant not only brainstorming with Innosparks’ technical team to find solutions to functional challenges such as airflow and heat dissipation, it also required the “simplification of the design to an optimum point where performance and functionality met and was hassle-free to use”.

The resulting ‘face-friendly’ shape and neutral look of the AIR+’s design minimises the social distance a mask creates. It also encourages the users’ willingness to protect themselves in polluted environments.

In keeping with STUCK’s creative philosophy, the user was always at the forefront throughout the design process. Donn says, “Good design occurs when there is no excess, but there is also no shortage. In this case, we were able to express our philosophy that technology and innovation should be logical, easy to understand and pleasurable to use. It should be designed for human beings. So, if the technology is not immediately obvious and the aesthetics appear subdued, that is precisely the point of the design approach of AIR+.”

Project lead Jerome Lee of Innosparks agrees, adding that “the AIR+ Smart Mask is innovation in action. We have arrived at an elegant solution to close the gap in today’s protective masks and make a difference in people’s lives.”

ABOUT THE DESIGNER

Driven by the desire to spark innovations and touch lives, Innosparks took on the engineering challenge of bringing to market the AIR+ Smart Mask which has, to date, reached many Singaporeans, especially the young and vulnerable elderly groups. The team was incubated within global engineering group, ST Engineering – a company hailed by Forbes as one of the world’s most innovative companies and one of Asia’s largest defence and engineering groups. With such antecedents, it’s no surprise that Innosparks has led the field in pioneering innovative engineering solutions that bring positive impact in everyday lives.

Overlaying this profound dedication to altruistic engineering is STUCK’s pursuit of aesthetic purity. In this regard, the President’s Design Award provides the ideal point of reference to which the industry and emerging creatives can aspire, especially when the result is one that so effectively harnesses the engineering and creative strengths as Innosparks and STUCK does with the AIR+ Smart Mask. 

In the short space since its launch in March 2015, the AIR+ Smart Mask has been warmly embraced by Singaporeans. With community outreach and roadshows, families have experienced the superior fit and total comfort that the AIR+ Smart Mask brings, with the assurance of certified protection for their loved ones.

During the prolonged haze of September to October 2015, the AIR+ Smart Mask emerged as the preferred choice of protective masks among consumers. It also garnered rave reviews from top family bloggers and even earned a 5/5 rating from ST Digital Life.

“Reaching out to the community with the AIR+ Smart Mask is truly the culmination of one and a half years of product development. We are both an engineering company and a corporate citizen. We apply our expertise to meet the many needs faced by people in Singapore and the world. What we have developed is an example of how innovation, engineering and design can be put at the service of people for good,” says Jerome.

The success of the AIR+ Smart Mask is attributed the strength of the multidisciplinary team to synergise skill sets across different fields, the tenacity to leapfrog past conventional thinking, and the passion to develop a product that can truly impact lives.

Advice to Emerging Designers:
As design continues to push and evolve past traditional boundaries, the point of inspiration does not detract from its origin, and that is creating real solutions for real-world challenges. In this way, engineering and design can come together and effect sustainable social good in our community.

JURY CITATION

The AIR+ Smart Mask is truly an innovation brought to life through advanced engineering ingenuity and intuitive industrial design. The task was simple: to challenge the status quo by engineering a protective mask that delivers protection without compromising comfort. Users can choose from three mask sizes, as well as two types of detachable ventilators to suit individual requirements.

Lateral thinking, a spirit of invention and a rigorous design process informed every aspect of the design. The result is an utterly convincing product. The fact that it is a collaboration between Innosparks, a subsidiary of ST Engineering, and STUCK, a home-grown design practice, is all the more significant since the commercial possibility of this product has the potential to extend beyond Singapore.

NOMINATOR CITATION

Prof Yen Ching Chiuan
Head of Division
NUS Division of Industrial Design

Designed in three sizes, the AIR+ Smart Mask series of respirators and the innovative add-on Micro Ventilator creates a groundbreaking level of ergonomic and airflow comfort for wearers of respirator masks, while remaining highly convenient, hygienic and suitable for everyday use.

Prior to the AIR+ Smart Mask, many people have been reluctant to wear respirator masks because of the humidity and stuffiness they experience after even a short period. The build-up of carbon dioxide within the mask can also cause headaches and shortness of breath. Striving to solve these problems led the designers to invent the micro ventilator concept – a lightweight snap-on rechargeable device that rapidly extracts heat, humidity and temperature within the mask, making it cool and comfortable for users.

The micro ventilator reduces humidity in the mask by up to 40 per cent, temperature by up to 4°C, and reduces carbon dioxide levels from 3 to 1.5 per cent. Comfort on this level has, to date, only been available in bulky and complex mask systems that are expensive, difficult to maintain, and are aesthetically unpleasing. For those reasons, they tend to be limited to professional and industrial uses.

The innovative comfort provided by the AIR+ system provides consumers with greater ease of use, and encourages greater willingness to protect themselves in polluted conditions such as in a haze. Moreover, its design played a key role in its appeal to consumers with its pleasing aesthetics and face-neutral shape that minimised the “social distance” a mask creates.

For the first time, the masks provide certified protection for even small faces with its S size, extending certified protection that is breathable and comfortable to children aged seven years and up.

This is no small feat considering the AIR+ Smart Mask achieved certification under the American NIOSH and European CE standards.

Finally, the micro ventilators also improve the lifespan of the disposable respirators by quickly expelling moisture instead of allowing it to build up and clog the filters. Comparatively, each disposable mask lasts longer than its conventional counterparts, saving money for consumers while reducing waste.