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DoD Announces $325M Deal for MIT-Led Textile Innovation Hub

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A group of 89 universities, manufacturers and non-profits, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will spearhead a new project announced Friday by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

The research and development partnership, dubbed the Advanced Functional Fibers of America (AFFOA), is designed to lock down U.S. leadership in revolutionary fibers and textiles manufacturing.

According to a statement, the new institute is the sixth manufacturing hub to be awarded by the Obama administration through the Department of Defense, and the headquarters will be based in Cambridge, near the main MIT campus. Participants include protective materials manufacturer Warwick Mills, yarn spinner Buhler Yarns, Dupont and New Balance, in addition to Bose, Intel and nanofiber maker FibeRio, to name a few.

The agreement, which combines $75 million in federal funds and nearly $250 million in cost sharing from non-federal investments, is intended to integrate fibers and yarns with circuits, LEDs, solar cells and other capabilities in order to create textiles and fabrics that can see, hear, sense, communicate, store energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, change color and more.

“These would be high-tech offerings that change the game for the companies involved and for the industry,” Charles Howland, president and chief engineer of Warwick Mills, told The New York Times.

For instance, the institute could potentially create uniforms that regulate temperature and detect threats, such as chemical and radioactive elements, in order to warn warfighters and first responders. And it’s not just the U.S. military that could benefit from these revolutionary fibers and textiles. So, too, could a wide range of industries, including apparel.

As Yoel Fink, the director of MIT’s research laboratory of electronics who is leading the advanced fabrics project, explained to the Times, “This is about reimagining what a fabric is and rebirthing textiles into a high-tech industry.”

The initiative will also include a workforce training hub in the New York region. Brooklyn-based Manufacture New York (MNY) will launch and host skills-based training and registered apprenticeship programs across the fashion textile manufacturing supply chain, including AFFOA technical project participants and drawing from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), as well as other local and national public educational institutions.

“We believe the AFFOA Manufacturing Innovation Institute will effectively bridge the current supply chain gap between technology enablers and commercial products in smart fabrics; it will be instrumental in bringing technologies to market by fostering innovation in manufacturing and advanced engineering,” said Bob Bland, CEO of MNY, who will serve as the deputy director apprenticeships and internships.

After the stand-up period of the AFFOA institute, at least 30 apprenticeships and internships will be offered per year with six-month cycles, and the goal for graduates will be to enter the local workforce. According to MNY, programs piloted through AFFOA will be implemented nationally through the institute’s inclusive network of partners.

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