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Bilio Directs Their Zero-Waste, Sustainable Process Towards Manufacturing Face Masks

by Rudy Sanchez on 05/07/2020 | 3 Minute Read

In addition to social distancing and working from home, public health experts have also advised everyone to start wearing masks, mobilizing legions of folks to sew and manufacture protective face coverings, so that medical staff and others on the frontlines fighting against coronavirus are not competing with the public for medical-grade Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). 

This very sudden and dire need for masks provided a sort of acid test for the team at industrial design firm Bilio and their high-tech, zero-waste knitting process.

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Bilio’s expertise allows them to knit objects in a single piece, incorporating different materials and components. The Bilio bag, for example, incorporates pockets, straps, and adhesive for a sew-less final assembly. They designed the bag on a yarn-level instead of fabric, so there are no wasted bits of material scrap produced. They applied that same principle towards producing washable and reusable face masks, going from concept, production, and shipping in record time, all while working remotely.

“We wanted to provide a mask for the public as soon as we could, freeing up the medical-grade masks for hospital workers,” said Kenny Sweet, design director at Bilio. “It took us about three days of iteration to perfect the mask. At that point, it was all hands on deck to generate the packaging design, validate prototypes, set up our assembly facility, and pack out and ship the final product. All told it was ten days from our first valid prototype to our first customer shipment.”

The masks come in two designs, colors, and sizes. The “Koala,” available now, is a standard, single-piece face covering, while the “Kangaroo” includes a filter pouch. Both masks come from recycled materials and have an embedded copper nose crimp for a superior fit, in addition to an interwoven anti-microbial silver yarn by X-STATIC. 

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Bilio’s masks also come in a resealable, food-grade airtight pouch for storage.

“We focused our concept explorations on only immediately and locally available off-the-shelf packaging components, with an eye to the purity of function,” added Kenny. “Just like the mask, which is produced with zero material waste, we wanted to keep packaging waste to an absolute minimum. We opted for a food-grade pouch that we can seal at our pack-out facility. This tamper-proof, airtight, and UV-proof environment ensures a long shelf life for the masks, as contact with UV light and air break down elastic fibers over time.”

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Once opened, the pouch has a water-tight resealable closure—that way, you can continue to use it as a sanitary storage space for the lifetime of the mask. “Our goal is maximum functionality, with minimal design, and as little waste as possible,” Kenny said.

Staying ahead of the coronavirus has proven challenging, even with the resources of a superpower nation. But the talent and expertise of Bilio’s team, as well as their CNC flatbed knitting machine, gave the firm an inherent ability to respond swiftly to the PPE shortage crisis while creating a sustainable and zero-waste alternative to single-use masks.

“We have been exploring the potential of this knit-to-shape process for many of our clients, as well as some of our products, so the transition [to making masks] was not difficult,” Kenny said. 

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"It's a very flexible technology," he said. "You can knit a highly technical sports shoe one minute, then load a new program to knit a wool mitten the next. Or you can knit them at the same time. The other key benefit is that once you have established a design and material content, there is no ramp-up to production. You just tell the machine how many more items to knit."

Launching a new product, even under ideal circumstances, can be a rewarding yet taxing task. Doing so as quickly as possible, while under social distancing mandates, adds even more pressure. Bilio, like so many of us, has adapted and learned that certain basics are critical, even when there’s a lack of communal spaces and physical proximity to colleagues and coworkers.

"Communication and a sense of humor are key," Kenny shared. "We have daily formal all hands in the morning, and we keep a studio group chats for all-day team banter."

Bilio masks can be ordered from BilioMask.com.