46 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
N.C. State ISE students join forces
with hosiery mill to create face masks
Inside Harriss & Covington Hosiery Mills, beneath spools of bright-colored thread,
workers crisscross among heavy machinery. Hovering at workstations and perched
on swivel chairs, they sift through stacks of garments, inspecting each before sending
the finished fabric down the line to be packaged by others who seal the product in
plastic sleeves.
Making clothing is a five-generation affair at the High Point, North Carolina,
textile mill. Specically, they’ve built the 100-year-old business on the strength of
hosiery – stockings and socks, mainly. But in these unique times, the business has
added a new item to the mix: washable, two-layer face masks.
At the start of the pandemic, the mill partnered with EHOP Health, an occupa-
tional health service also in North Carolina, to create the brand, Easy Masks. It was
a huge success.
“With the high demand for masks, Easy Masks saw fast-paced growth,” said Eric
Solutions in practice
by Frank Reddy
case study
Photos courtesy of Eric Swanson and Katie Lawson
North Carolina State University ISE students Katie Lawson and Eric Swanson stand
before a shipment of Easy Masks in April.
December 2020 | ISE Magazine 47
Swanson, a student in the Edward P. Fitts Department of In-
dustrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina State
University. “The increase in demand meant rapid changes to
optimize the production line. This is where we came in as
industrial engineering consultants. We played a major role in
the optimization of production and mask design.
Swanson, an IISE member, and fellow N.C. State indus-
trial engineering student Katie Lawson joined the company as
consultants at Easy Mask working on safe packaging as well as
maximizing mask quality and quantity. Since the start of the
pandemic, the company has sold more than 250,000 masks.
“During the North Carolina
economic shutdown, the team
worked tirelessly to offer a solu-
tion and needed product using all
resources from North Carolina,
Lawson said. “Countless hours
were devoted to the essential task
of creating a durable, washable,
comfortable, easy-to-use protec-
tive mask that could help our state
and our country safely get back to
work. Only essential businesses
were able to operate, so collabo-
ration with Easy Masks allowed
the hosiery mill to operate at a
minimal capacit y.”
Tyler Covington, co-president
of Harriss & Covington, said
transitioning the company to
mask-making indeed allowed the
mill to “register as an essential
business ... to remain open and
bring more people back to work
sooner once we transitioned from
(research and development) to
production.
Covington said the shift was
‘The increase in demand meant rapid
changes to optimize the production line.
This is where we came in as industrial
engineering consultants. We played
a major role in the optimization of
production and mask design.
— Eric Swanson
Katie Lawson and Eric Swanson model the original black
“Apex” Easy Masks.
Katie Lawson and Eric Swanson tour the mills in Harriss & Covington Hosiery in April.
Photos courtesy of Eric Swanson and Katie Lawson
48 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
case study
a challenge that our talented R&D staff embraced and was
appreciated by our entire team as a way to use our skills and
resources to help during a challenging time.
He added that working with Lawson and Swanson “helped
us both in product design as well as packaging efficiency. We
appreciated their abilities to contribute in 2D and 3D model-
ing as well as completing time-motion studies to help us opti-
mize packing of the finished products.
Lawson and Swansons ISE consulting consisted of three
projects: a time study and linear analysis; product design; and
creating a package insert for the product’s filters.
The time study aimed to evaluate two things: the most ef-
cient way to package masks while limiting worker fatigue and
to calculate how to maximize the number of masks produced
– while maximizing profit – in a given week, depending on
the amount of time attributed to different processes of produc-
tion. Swanson said it was a direct application of the college
course Deterministic Models in Industrial Engineering.
For the second project, the duo tackled product design.
Swanson designed a plastic insert to hold the filter in place by
modeling in Fusion 360, the cloud-based CAD/CAM tool for
collaborative product development.
By printing prototypes, we can finalize a patentable de-
sign with customer feedback and then work with an injec-
tion molding company to formulate a mold for production,
Swanson said, adding that the project applied knowledge from
Foundations of Design and 3D Modeling for Engineers and
Product Development and Rapid Prototyping, two other
courses that prepared him for real life problem-solving.
Finally, the ISE students sought to create a package insert
for the non-woven filters that allowed users to easily slide the
lter between the masks’ double layers. Swanson used Fusion
360 for this as well.
Covington said that in bringing a new product to market,
there were certain key lessons: “Listen to the customer and
never stop improving.
The masks we are manufacturing today are significantly
improved from where we started in March, and just like with
our sock business, we continue to look for ways to improve
comfort, fit and performance,” Covington said.
Lawson said that, “while there are numerous masks on the
market,” she and Swanson sought to create a mask that maxi-
mized protection against COVID-19 exposure. To accom-
plish this, they designed the fabric to “create a seal around the
face and also have a place to hold an optional nonwoven filter.
Swanson said it’s not enough for the masks “just to look
good. We want our masks to help keep us safe by reducing the
dose of viral particles. All our masks offer a two-layer design
for improved filtration, as well as the ability to add additional
ltration inserts between the masks two layers. Protection,
Eric Swanson and Katie Lawson watch as Harriss & Covington
workers package masks inside the mill in April.
‘Working and applying our industrial
engineering knowledge with Easy Masks
meant we collected the data ourselves,
looked at all the outside influencing
factors that are normally overlooked in
the ‘ideal setting’ classroom calculations,
and then had to interpret the data in
order to direct Easy Masks into the most
optimal direction.
— Katie Lawson
Ready for packaging: A pile of “Apex” version Easy Masks.
December 2020 | ISE Magazine 49
If you’ve been involved in a project that put solutions to the test in a real-
world environment, it could be a potential Case Study article. Send your
idea to Managing Editor Keith Albertson at kalbertson@iise.org and we’ll
give it consideration.
Do you have a Case Study to share?
comfort and breathability are the main focus points we looked
at when first creating and continually improving the masks.
Online, Easy Masks sells about 2,000 masks per week. It
also sells wholesale to business for resale at Ingles, Whole
Foods, Weaver Street Market and Print Works.
On a recent tour, donning the company’s masks themselves
naturally, Lawson and Swanson watched their industrial engi-
neering work put into practice on the mill floor. Employees
moved about beneath a spectrum of spooled colors, manufac-
turing the masks, then sending them down the line for pack-
aging, boxing and mailing.
Lawson said being part of the effort was an “invaluable
opportunity” to apply the skills she and Swanson learned at
N.C. State and “do more than just watch Easy Masks take off.
... Working and applying our industrial engineering knowl-
edge with Easy Masks meant we collected the data ourselves,
looked at all the outside influencing factors that are normally
overlooked in the ‘ideal setting’ classroom calculations, and
then had to interpret the data in order to direct Easy Masks
into the most optimal direction for the increasing demand and
their business plan.
Frank Reddy is IISE’s marketing and communications coordinator.
Contact him at freddy@iise.org.
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Jolynn Lawson packages Easy Masks with Harriss & Covington
Hosiery workers in March.