The man behind the machine behind the masks

Ben Macalister, a senior machinist in Northeastern’s department of mechanical and industrial engineering, uses a high pressure water jet to cut materials in the machining center in the Forsyth Building. Photo by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University

When Northeastern’s Boston campus moved to online instruction in March in accordance with guidance from public health agencies, Ben Macalister, a senior machinist in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering, needed to find something to do with his hands. 

Macalister has been using Northeastern’s machine shop in the Forsyth building to manufacture parts for machines that will build protective gear for hospital workers. 

His work is part of a larger effort led by Artisan’s Asylum, a non-profit community fabrication center in Somerville, Massachusetts. The group is working with several local healthcare providers to ensure that they have enough face shields, gowns, and masks to stay protected while they care for patients with COVID-19.  

Macalister is currently working with the team making surgical masks. His job includes manufacturing a device to pleat mask material and a mount to hold a plastic spot-welder used to attach the elastic bands.

Ben Macalister, a senior machinist in Northeastern's department of mechanical and industrial engineering, drills and taps holes into a piece of metal in the machining center in the Forsyth Building. Photos by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University
These pieces will be part of an assembly used to put elastic ear loops onto protective face masks. Photo by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University
Macalister cuts out the pieces he needs using a high pressure water jet. Photos by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University
The pieces made in Northeastern's machine shop will go into machines to build protective gear for healthcare professionals. Photos by Adam Glanzman for Northeastern University