Stanford H.S. graduate key to ‘Montana Mask’ project

Bozeman company pivots to build protective masks for frontline medical workers
Thursday, May 14, 2020
Stanford graduate key to ‘Montana Mask’ project

Cory Deegan, who graduated from Stanford High School, has been using his skillset to help with the creation of Montana Masks, which are used by frontline healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic. The company Deegan works for, Spark R&D, primarily builds snowboard bindings but quickly adapted their technology for the greater good. Photo courtesy of Spark R&D

A protective face covering termed the ‘Montana Mask’ has gained national attention during the coronavirus pandemic. Taking part in this project that helps frontline healthcare workers is Cory Deegan, a 2014 graduate of Stanford High School.

Deegan, the son of John and Julie Deegan and grandson of John and Janice Deegan, went on to study machining technology and is certified in computer numerical control. He now lives in Bozeman and works for a company that primarily sells outdoor gear but was able to pivot to make masks in recent times.

For background, the Montana Mask was originally developed in March 2020 by a trio in Billings –Neurosurgeon Dusty Richardson and father and son team Spencer and Colton Zugg. The father is a dentist and the son studied microbiology.

These three individuals in Billings together designed a reusable facemask that can be sterilized and has a removable filter. They developed it with a 3-D printer, which works by precisely stacking plastic in layers to form a 3-D shape. The team then provided, free of charge, the coding to create the mask to anyone interested.

The masks had been taking 3 hours or so to build with the 3-D printer. However, a different group, Spark R&D of Bozeman, where Deegan is employed, took it a step further. They were able to use their resources to get the time to build the mask down to 45 seconds.

Spark R&D primarily builds snowboard bindings for backcountry snowboarders. A type of snowboard called a spilt board is used in the backcountry where there are no ski lifts. The split board allows the snowboarder to more easily get up the hill - the board can be literally split to form skis. The company began 14 years ago in a garage. It has since expanded into 12,000 square-foot shop with 50-plus employees. It is their entrepreneurial spirit that allowed them to accomplish this task, their employees say.

“It’s an innovative company to begin with. The co-owner, Will [Ritter], is a lead designer. In March, he asked, How can we use our technology to help this situation?” said Dan Ventura, Spark R&D marketing manager.

Of note, Spark R&D has the technology to complete all of their manufacturing in-house and has two injection-scale molding machines.

Ritter was able to take the design from the trio in Billings and quickly adapt it for faster fabrication. They had the project up and running within a week, said Ventura. The inhouse manufacturing was key to the development, he added. Additionally, Spark R&D could hit on three major aspects of the mask’s construction - going from the 3-D design to CAD, to creating the mold, to using their injection molders.

Deegan is thrilled to be part of the project from the ground floor.

“My initial thoughts were, Alright, if we are going to do this, let’s do it to the best of our ability,” said Deegan. “This is our small chance to make a small difference.”

Deegan is one of two programmers who sets the machines to create the molds for the masks. The molds are then sent off to the injection department, Deegan said.

“Cory [Deegan] is a great guy,” said Ventura, noting that all of the employees together form a large and successful team. “Besides being a great guy, Cory is one of the many incredible people we employ at Spark R&D, allowing us to quickly pivot in these changing times. It was definitely a team effort.”

The masks are reserved for frontline medical workers, and have already been distributed to the Billings Clinic, St. Vincent’s and other hospitals, Ventura said. As of May 12, 30,388 masks have been received by workers in the medical field.