AFFOA sets up headquarters near MIT
Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) has opened new headquarters close to MIT campus, an initiative which represents significant MIT investment in advanced manufacturing innovation. The facility includes a Fabric Discovery Centre that provides end-to-end prototyping from fibre design to system integration of new textile-based products.
The centre will be used for education and workforce development in the Cambridge and greater Boston community.
AFFOA headquarters also includes startup incubation space for companies spun out from MIT and other partners who are innovating advanced fabrics and fibres for applications ranging from apparel and consumer electronics to automotive and medical devices.
MIT was a founding member of the AFFOA team that partnered with the Department of Defence in April 2016 to launch this new institute as a public-private partnership through an independent nonprofit also founded by MIT. AFFOA’s chief executive officer is Yoel Fink. Prior to his current role, Fink led the AFFOA proposal last year as professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Research Laboratory for Electronics at MIT, with his vision to create a “fabric revolution.” That revolution under Fink’s leadership was grounded in new fibre materials and textile manufacturing processes for fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, and monitor health.
From the perspectives of research, education, and entrepreneurship, MIT engagement in AFFOA draws from many strengths. These include the multifunctional drawn fibres developed by Fink and others to include electronic capabilities within fibres that include multiple materials and function as devices. That fibre concept developed at MIT has been applied to key challenges in the defence sector through MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, commercialisation through a startup called OmniGuide that is now OmniGuide Surgical for laser surgery devices, and extensions to several new areas including neural probes by Polina Anikeeva, MIT associate professor of materials science and engineering.
Beyond these diverse uses of fibre devices, MIT faculty including Greg Rutledge, the Lamott du Pont Professor of Chemical Engineering, have also led innovation in predictive modeling and design of pure polymer fibres, fibre processing and characterisation, and self-assembly of woven and nonwoven textiles for diverse applications and industries.
Rutledge coordinates MIT campus engagement in the AFFOA Institute, and notes that “MIT has a range of research and teaching talent that impacts manufacturing of fibre and textile-based products, from designing the fibre to leading the factories of the future. Many of our faculty also have longstanding collaborations with partners in defence and industry on these projects, including with Lincoln Laboratory and the Army’s Natick Soldier Research Design and Engineering Centre, so MIT membership in AFFOA is an opportunity to strengthen and grow those networks.”
Faculty at MIT across several departments and schools have also created innovative new product concepts ranging from sweat-responsive sports apparel advanced by Professor Hiroshi Ishii’s group to design of self-folding strands of multi-material fibres by Professor Skylar Tibbits. Professors Neri Oxman and Craig Carter developed new modeling and materials fabrication capabilities that facilitated the first 3-D-printed dress featured at Paris Fashion Week in 2013.
“The proximity of AFFOA’s headquarters and this new Fabric Discovery Centre to MIT’s campus is an important new way for MIT to connect our students and faculty with the national AFFOA network of industrial and academic partners,” says Maria Zuber, MIT vice president for research.
As the Manufacturing USA institutes include a strong focus on education and workforce development, AFFOA’s new Fabric Discovery Centre can draw from national expertise as well as local strengths at MIT in project-based learning. For example, Alex Slocum, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has led multiple design classes that have resulted in several startups in innovative fabrics and apparel, including Ministry of Supply, founded by four MIT alumni in 2012 and now located on Newbury Street in Boston. MIT professors Steven Eppinger and Maria Wang have offered a product design and development class jointly with the Rhode Island School of Design, geared toward MIT Sloan School of Management MBA students. Such efforts nucleated at MIT can now be expanded and piloted to benefit more members of AFFOA in the region and nationwide.
“MIT’s engagement in AFFOA will help speed adoption of new manufacturing technologies developed at MIT and elsewhere, and help prepare our region’s textile innovators to be able to both invent it here and make it here,” notes Professor Krystyn Van Vliet, director of manufacturing innovation for MIT’s Innovation Initiative. (SV)
Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India