– Cirrus Aircraft has designed a powered respirator it can 3D-print at a “fraction” of the cost hospitals typically pay as the manufacturer joins a host of Duluth-based companies providing support to health care workers during the pandemic.

The powered air purifying respirator, or PAPR, blows air into an enclosed hood and provides more complete protection than an N95 mask. Like those masks, they have been hard to find.

“These units are in extremely high demand with traditional medical supply options limited,” Cirrus said in a news release. “At the heart of creating full PAPR units is a project to recreate the blower units available at area hospitals.”

A few prototypes have been sent to St. Luke’s and Essentia Health, and the battery-powered blower will be tested over the next few weeks. Once approved for hospital use, the company says it will make nearly 200 of them after local hospitals requested about 160.

A full PAPR setup costs up to $2,000, and Cirrus said “the design our team came up with costs a fraction of the typical 3M unit supplied to hospitals.”

Essentia Health surgeon Dr. Mark Scott said last week PAPR units are on back-order and it’s “unclear” when traditional supply lines will catch up. Already he has been sanitizing and reusing hoods on his own PAPR as many times as possible.

“We don’t have enough,” he said.

Cirrus is working with Duluth canvas bag maker Frost River to make 850 hood and coupler assemblies that can boost those supplies. The companies also assembled more than 31,000 disposable face shields.

Cirrus, one of the city’s largest employers, has slowed its airplane production and furloughed some employees during the pandemic, but it also put together an experimental team “working on ways we could support the front-line health care workers.”

“We’re a team of dreamers and donating extra gear wasn’t enough,” the company said. “So, we also put our production and product development teams to work building real solutions for one of the most urgent problems facing the medical community.”

Cirrus and Frost River were recognized by Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove last week, who tweeted: “Lots of work ahead but this is awesome.”