Penn State joins national network to support functional fabrics

April 01, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The U.S. Department of Defense has tapped Penn State as a partner in a $75 million national research institute that will support American textile manufacturers in bringing sophisticated new materials and textiles to the marketplace. The institute -- Advanced Functional Fabrics of America -- will be a national manufacturing resource center for industry and government and will draw on the expertise of academic researchers working with new fibers, fabrics and materials and developing the technology that can integrate them into products from active wear to protective armor.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter formally recognized Advanced Functional Fabrics of America as one of the White House's National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institutes today (Apr. 1) in a ceremony at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The NNMI initiative is a $317 million public-private effort to boost the value of American-made products on the international market, by using new materials and manufacturing methods.

"Fibers and fabrics are among the earliest forms of human expression, yet have changed very little over the course of history," said Yoel Fink, director of MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics, who led the AFFOA proposal. "All this is about to change as functional fiber and yarn technologies meet traditional textile production and yield new products by design. Our institute will become the focal point of innovation in manufacturing and production, realizing the vision of advanced functional fabrics for the benefit of consumers as well as our men and women in uniform."

The AFFOA group is made up of 31 academic institutions, including Penn State, Cornell University, The Ohio State University, the University of Michigan and the University of California -- Davis. There are 16 industry partners -- NIKE, Microsoft, Good Year, The North Face, Bose and Medtronic among them. In addition, 26 start-up incubators and venture capital groups, including Angel Capital Associations, Westbury Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners have pledged support to AFFOA.

Penn State is part of a mid-Atlantic research hub led by Drexel University linking research institutions including Carnegie Mellon, Temple University, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia University and the University of Delaware to manufacturing and investment partners DuPont, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeast Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia Office of Manufacturing and Industry and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

The mid-Atlantic cohort will lead investigations into modeling, designing and predicting the utility of new fibers, yarns and materials, as well as using those new materials to build prototypes of functional fabrics for apparel, healthcare, transportation, consumer electronics, architecture, and the defense industry.

"There are currently no industry standards for introducing new materials into textile manufacturing, and this is one of the main obstacles blocking U.S. manufacturing from making a big leap forward," said Genevieve Dion, an associate professor in Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and director of the Shima Seikia Haute Technology Lab in Drexel's Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies Center, who is one of the AFFOA research leads. "If we can bridge that gap by offering the research and testing necessary to establish standards and develop processes for using new materials in manufacturing, this institute can remove that roadblock so our nation's economy can move forward."

In addition to guidance in design and prototyping, the group will offer industry partners expertise in structural analysis of fibers, yarns and textiles, as well as computational modeling programs that will enable AFFOA partners to anticipate manufacturing challenges before they arise and create strategies for surmounting them.

"Anyone at Penn State, regardless of the department or college they are in, can write a grant focusing on the internal goals of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America," said Melik Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics, Penn State. "We already have a six- or seven-member faculty team waiting for the Network to become established so they can submit their project."

These predictive manufacturing tools are some of the resources available to established industry partners, start-up companies and small to mid-size manufacturers. Companies will also benefit from a large network of prototyping and pilot manufacturing facilities led by experts in fiber and fabric innovation, with physical and digital archives of fibers and fabrics properties at their disposal.

"Large manufacturing companies and start-ups alike, will be able to turn to the institute with a challenge -- such as creating body temperature sensing apparel -- and gain access to the intellectual property, designers, suppliers, and prototyping facilities necessary to bring a new idea to market," said Debbie Buchwald, executive director of Corporate Relations and Economic Development at Drexel and the chief marketing officer of AFFOA. "AFFOA presents unprecedented opportunities for industry partners of all shapes and sizes by providing access to research innovation and coordinated networks of supply chain partners."

Advanced Functional Fabrics of America is the eighth such center of innovation created by the Obama administration since 2012. Other centers have supported research and workforce development focused on 3-D printing, digital manufacturing, lightweight materials, semiconductors, advanced composite materials, photonic-integrated circuitry and flexible electronics.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 11, 2016