Cornell to refashion textile industry through new $317 million partnership with MIT, Department of Defense

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell joins a collection of 32 universities to lead a $317 million public-private partnership that will fast-track innovations in “smart” fabrics for use in apparel, transportation, electronics and a wide range of consumer products, as well as protective gear for soldiers and first responders.

The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) Institute promises to accelerate breakthroughs in fiber science and manufacturing that will lead to fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health and change color. The non-profit will be led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as announced earlier this month by U.S Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

Backed by $75 million in competitively awarded federal funds and $242 million from more than 85 industry and academia collaborators, AFFOA creates a national network to weave innovation into every step of the fabric supply chain—from functional fibers embedded with special properties to new digital tools for apparel design and measurement to rebooted manufacturing processes and training and technical education for the next generation of textile workers.

Juan Hinestroza, associate professor in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology, worked extensively with partners at MIT, Drexel University, the University of Tennessee and other institutions to prepare AFFOA’s concept paper and final proposal.

“With the creation of AFFOA, we are taking a major step forward in revolutionizing the textile industry and speeding scientific breakthroughs that will transform many aspects of our society, as textiles are all around us—in toothbrushes, pillows, car seats, airplanes, protective gear, fashion and more,” said Hinestroza. “I am pleased that Cornell can contribute some of the best textile and fiber testing and research facilities and experts in the nation to this effort.”

A team of Cornell professors from fiber science, engineering and computer and information science will support an AFFOA core initiative to create an interactive and comprehensive system to specify fundamental properties of fibers and textiles. Using predictive modeling algorithms—some of them pioneered at Cornell—the tool will simulate how textiles will look, feel and move on a human body before they are even manufactured.

“We aim at simulating all aspects of textile production from molecular structure, processing into fibers, manufacturing into fabrics and performance in real-life environments,” Hinestroza said. “This knowledge repository will significantly improve the efficiency of the American textile industry, allowing for rapid selection of materials and manufacturing techniques for new generations of textile and apparel products.”

AFFOA leaders estimate the institute will stimulate 50,000 jobs across the fashion supply chain in the next 10 years. Cornell expects to contribute to efforts to train New York-based workers in partnership with NYSTAR, the Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, and a statewide network of community colleges.

AFFOA becomes the eighth Manufacturing Innovation Institute created under the 2014 Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI) introduced by U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, and U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III. RAMI aims to create a network of regional manufacturing institutes across the country to support domestic production, drive innovation and expand workforce development in growing industries.

“I am pleased to learn that the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America coalition, led by MIT in partnership with Cornell, has received a $75 million award from the Department of Defense,” Reed said. “I care about bringing quality, advanced manufacturing jobs to our region. I am proud to work with colleagues across the aisle to support projects like this through my and Joe Kennedy’s Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act. I am thrilled that DOD recognizes the high caliber of the research institutions, businesses and workforce of our region and look forward to the success of this initiative.”

Daryl Lovell
Office: 607-254-4799
Mobile: 607-592-3925

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.