Vandalia manufacturer develops new face mask

Ben Staub is the president of Bastech a company based in Vandalia. Bastech created a new face mask product line and sold thousands to a hospital in St. Louis.
Ben Staub is the president of Bastech a company based in Vandalia. Bastech created a new face mask product line and sold thousands to a hospital in St. Louis.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Amid pandemic Bastech, through aid of $500K grant, looks to fill need.

Fueled by a $500,000 state grant and an ongoing national need, a Vandalia manufacturer is celebrating recent sales of a newly developed face mask.

The need for personal face masks and coverings became acute in mid-March when the COVID-19 pandemic first began to be truly felt nationwide. That need has only continued.

Ben Staub, president of Bastech Inc. and the newly formed BukTek, LLC, surveyed the masks that were available earlier this year and decided his company, located on North Dixie Drive near the Dayton-Vandalia municipal border, could make something better.

So Staub and his workforce of about 20 did just that.

“We looked at a lot of the designs and possible solutions that other people came up with, and quite honestly, we kind of thought we could do it better,” Staub said.

Prototyping is much of what Bastech does, with plastic injection molding, 3-D printing and other processes. Prototyping and testing of a new mask design was launched.

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What resulted was a mask with a elastomer material that seals around the wearer’s face. Staub calls it the “R Series,” for “reusable and replaceable.”

“This is a little more of a serious mask,” Staub said. “This is not a cloth mask you would not want to put on when you walk into a Walmart.”

The mask seals far better than a cloth mask, Staub maintains.

An Ohio Reshoring PPE grant of $500,000 was instrumental in making prototyping and production possible, he said.

First announced in the spring, the grants flowed from a $20 million state program offering awards of up to $500,000 to help small and medium-sized manufacturers repurpose facilities to make much-needed personal protective equipment — or to move production of such equipment to Ohio.

A filter element of a mask developed this year by Vandalia manufacturer Bastech. Company image
A filter element of a mask developed this year by Vandalia manufacturer Bastech. Company image

Up to 20% of funding was reserved for manufacturers with fewer than 25 employees — companies like Bastech.

Funds were to be used to offset costs in retooling, acquiring equipment or building facilities, with expenses dating back to March 21 being covered.

“It seems like a lot of money — until you develop a whole product line,” Staub said. “I think it doesn’t go nearly as far as you think it would.”

But Bastech did buy two pieces of manufacturing equipment with the funding.

He also started a new company.

“We actually did start a new company, called ‘BukTek,’ ” he said. “And that is the company on the distribution and the sales (of the new masks). But Bastech does do the manufacturing, so it’s a little bit of a team effort.”

One challenge: The mask is still not NIOSH-approved — that is, approved by the National Industrial Organization of Safety and Health — as an authentic N95 mask. Staub is confident the product will achieve that certification, however.

“We’re still going through all of the testing,” Staub said.

Bastech created a new face mask product line and sold thousands to a hospital in St. Louis.
Bastech created a new face mask product line and sold thousands to a hospital in St. Louis.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The mask is made in Vandalia, with the exception of the filter media, which Bastech purchases. It comes with different options, including one version with a full-on face shield.

So far, so good. A hospital in St. Louis has picked up the entire product line, 2,500 units. (Staub said he cannot name the hospital.)

While BukTek can sell the masks, the company obviously cannot yet claim these as N95 masks, he noted. The St. Louis hospital will use the masks where cloth masks might ordinarily be used, Staub said.

“Obviously, everyone wants an N95 because of the safety factor, and rightfully so,” he said.

And there has been local interest in the new products, as well.

A new series of masks, the S series, is being prepared, as well. That should hit the market in the next couple of weeks.

Bastech machinist, Bryan Winter Botham uses a probe to  tram the center of a part.
Bastech machinist, Bryan Winter Botham uses a probe to tram the center of a part.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The last nine months have been as challenging as you might guess for Bastech, especially for a smaller company that serves customers in the hard-hit aerospace sector.

Said Staub, “In a world of mass chaos, we’re going through as best as we can.”

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