New US institute to hasten advances in fibres, fabrics
An independent nonprofit institute founded by MIT has been selected to run a new, $317 million public-private partnership announced today by US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
The partnership, named the Advanced Functional Fibers of America (AFFOA) Institute, has won a national competition for federal funding to create the latest Manufacturing Innovation Institute. It is designed to accelerate innovation in high-tech, U.S.-based manufacturing involving fibres and textiles, MIT announced on its website.
The proposal for the institute was led by Professor Yoel Fink, director of MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). The partnership includes 32 universities, 16 industry members, 72 manufacturing entities, and 26 startup incubators, spread across 27 states and Puerto Rico.
This is the eighth Manufacturing Innovation Institute established to date, and the first to be headquartered in New England. The headquarters will be established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in proximity to the MIT campus and its US Army-funded Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, as well as the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center.
This unique partnership has the potential to create a whole new industry, based on breakthroughs in fibre materials and manufacturing, Fink said. These new fibres and the fabrics made from them will have the ability to see, hear, and sense their surroundings; communicate; store and convert energy; monitor health; control temperature; and change their colour.
The new initiative will receive $75 million in federal funding out of a total of $317 million though cost sharing among the Department of Defense, industrial partners, venture capitalists, universities, nonprofits, and states including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The initial funding will cover a five-year period and will be administered through the new, independent, nonprofit organization set up for the purpose. The partnership, which will focus on both developing new technologies and training the workforce needed to operate and maintain these production systems, also includes a network of community colleges and experts in career and technical education for manufacturing.
“Massachusetts's innovation ecosystem is reshaping the way that people interact with the world around them,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. “This manufacturing innovation institute will be the national leader in developing and commercializing textiles with extraordinary properties. It will extend to an exciting new field our ongoing efforts to nurture emerging industries, and grow them to scale in Massachusetts. And it will serve as a vital piece of innovation infrastructure, to support the development of the next generation of manufacturing technology, and the development of a highly skilled workforce.”
For thousands of years, humans have used fabrics in much the same way, to provide basic warmth and aesthetics. Clothing represents “one of the most ancient forms of human expression,” Fink said, but one that is now, for the first time, poised to undergo a profound transformation — the dawn of a “fabric revolution.”