The acute global shortage of N95 respirator masks after the coronavirus outbreak has encouraged several companies to join the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to help tackle the shortage. Engines manufacturer Cummins (CMI 0.36%) is the latest to join the bandwagon, partnering with diversified chemicals company DuPont de Nemours (DD 2.77%) to manufacture viable alternatives to help "address the nation's shortage of N95 respirator masks."

What exactly are Cummins and DuPont making?

On April 6, Cummins announced that it is evaluating its "supply base and manufacturing capabilities" to identify ways to support healthcare workers through the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), or equipment critical for healthcare professionals to prevent exposure to hazards as they deal with coronavirus patients. 

The N95 mask is a common particulate-filtering face respirator mask, preventing 95% of airborne particles from entering the wearer's mouth and nose when properly fitted. Currently, 3M and Honeywell are leading N95 respirator mask producers, and both companies are scrambling to ramp up production to meet unprecedented demand.

N95 mask on a table.

Image source: Getty Images.

Cummins believes its NanoNet and NanoForce Media filter technology, together with DuPont's Hybrid Membrane Technology (HMT), can be effectively used to make viable "mask options, including both a disposable and reusable option."

To give you some perspective, Cummins' NanoNet is primarily a lube filtration technology, and NanoForce an air filtration technology that the company's filtration business unit uses to manufacture filtration parts for engines. Cummins typically integrates DuPont's HMT with its fibers to safeguard engine components.

As HMT spins material using continuous sub-micron fibers, it can create "membrane-like" sheets that can not only filter particulates but also allow easy breathability -- two essentials of N95 masks.

N95 prototype samples sent, awaiting regulatory approval

Cummins's first N95 mask prototypes were assembled in March by teams from the University of Minnesota.

Cummins said while it has already sent samples to mask manufacturers worldwide to test their effectiveness, it's awaiting vetting and approval from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) to certify the use of its materials to manufacture masks on scale at manufacturing facilities prepared for the job.