By Terry Hastings
The University of Georgia is a partner in a new national public-private consortium to revolutionize the fiber and textiles industry through commercialization of highly functional, advanced fibers and textiles for the defense and commercial markets. The partnership, called Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, or AFFOA, was announced today by the Department of Defense.
The AFFOA partnership builds on recent breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing processes that will soon allow us to design and manufacture fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health and change color.
The announcement of the consortium followed a highly competitive nationwide bid process for a national manufacturing institute that is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation announced by the federal government in 2012 to advance manufacturing leadership and job creation in the U.S.
“The University of Georgia is proud to play a role in transforming fiber and textile manufacturing in America through our involvement in the AFFOA initiative,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “Participation in this outstanding public-private partnership is aligned perfectly with our heritage as a land-grant university and our strong commitment to advance economic development in the 21st century.”
Members of the consortium include Fortune 500 companies such as Corning, DuPont, Nike and Intel, as well as small and medium-sized companies spanning the electronics, materials, apparel, transportation, fashion, defense, medical and consumer good manufacturing sectors. It also includes leaders of the fabric industry, such as Inman Mills, and leading research universities MIT, Cornell University, Drexel University, the University of Michigan, the University of California, Davis and the University of Texas at Austin.
The AFFOA mission is to transform traditional fibers, yarns and textiles manufacturing into a highly sophisticated functional system that will ensure America remains at the leading edge of fiber science. It brings together Fortune 500 companies, universities, fiber and textiles manufacturing facilities, state workforce development programs and federal agencies to co-invest in key technology areas that can encourage investment and production in the U.S.
Markets for the revolutionary fabrics range from apparel, health care and consumer products to defense, transportation, software and architectural and structural textiles.
“UGA’s contributions to AFFOA tap into longstanding expertise in textiles, polymers and fibers, a track record of collaboration with industry, as well as our success in launching new businesses based on discoveries,” said Vice President for Research David Lee, who has led UGA’s participation in the consortium to date.
UGA researchers who will play critical roles in AFFOA include Sergiy Minko, Georgia Power Professor of Polymers, Fibers and Textiles, College of Family and Consumer Sciences and professor, department of chemistry, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences; Suraj Sharma, associate professor in the department of textiles, merchandising and interiors, College of Family and Consumer Sciences; and Jason Locklin, associate professor in the College of Engineering and department of chemistry, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. Researchers from the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center who conduct research on biopolymers also will contribute to research and development of new technical textiles. Innovation Gateway, UGA’s commercialization and startup arm, will be instrumental in bringing new technologies to the market, including a portfolio of 10 existing textile, fiber and polymer technologies.
“In addition to revolutionizing textile manufacturing, we hope to reverse the downward trend in textile manufacturing employment,” Lee said. “This initiative is projected to add 50,000 jobs over the next 10 years across a wide range of U.S. industries and sectors along the entire supply chain.”
AFFOA, which spans 28 states and Puerto Rico, comprises 16 industry partners, 31 academic and non-profit organizations, 26 startup incubators, and a 72-member “fabric innovation network” of prototyping and pilot fiber and textile manufacturing facilities. The consortium will be headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the lead academic partner.
The effort is funded by a $75 million federal commitment and cost share matches from AFFOA partners totaling $317 million. UGA will receive at least $5 million over five years, with an additional investment of state matching funds.