UT Part of Team Exploring Innovations in Fibers and Fabrics
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been selected to participate in a $317 million public-private partnership run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and announced today by U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.
Much like the UT-led Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation announced by the White House in 2015, the MIT partnership, named Advanced Functional Fibers of America, won a national competition for federal funding to create a Manufacturing Innovation Institute designed to accelerate innovation in high-tech U.S.-based manufacturing.
This latest Manufacturing Innovation Institute, the eighth established to date and the fourth involving UT, is focused on highly functional advanced fibers and textiles for the defense and commercial markets.
UT is one of 31 universities in the fiber institute’s ecosystem and will assist by producing new types of smart polymer fibers for commercial and military use.
“Our significant contributions to the initiative will help with the innovation in manufacturing of the next generation of polymer fibers here in Tennessee and nationally,” said Taylor Eighmy, UT vice chancellor for research and engagement. “We are fortunate to collaborate with MIT and the Department of Defense in this endeavor. I also see many cooperative interactions between AFFOA and IACMI—The Composites Institute in hybrid materials manufacturing.
“We at the University of Tennessee look forward to our collaborations with our partners, especially here in Tennessee.”
UT has a fully developed nonwovens research lab on campus as well as the Textiles and Nonwovens Development Center, a facility for melt processing nonwoven fibers and fabrics. Combining long fibers through a chemical, mechanical, heat or solvent process makes those materials.
“UT’s College of Engineering continues to play critical roles in our National Network of Manufacturing Innovation,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the college. “Our expertise and collaboration in the applied fiber arena, our close work with industry and our fiber processing facility—TANDEC—position us to contribute significantly to AFFOA and to the Department of Defense.”
Professor Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, led the proposal for the institute. The partnership includes 31 universities, 16 industry members, 72 manufacturing entities and 26 startup incubators, spread across 28 states.
This is the first manufacturing institute to be headquartered in New England. Its headquarters will be in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near both MIT and the U.S. Army-funded Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology.
Fink said the unique partnership has the potential to create a new industry based on breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing that will allow the materials to have the ability to see, hear and sense their surroundings; communicate; store and convert energy; monitor health; control temperature; and change their color.
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 and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
The funding will cover a five-year period and will be administered through a 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 professional development institutes.