FIT Partners with Manufacture New York on revolutionary textile innovation initiative

An independent nonprofit founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been selected to run a new, $317 million nationwide public-private partnership to accelerate innovation in high-tech, U.S.-based manufacturing involving fibers and textiles—and FIT has been selected as the only higher education institution in New York City to participate.

FIT, which was selected on the basis of the college’s reputation in technology and innovation, will partner with Manufacture New York to launch and host a regional hub by providing faculty experts, interns, and others, as well as skills-based training and education across the fashion textile manufacturing supply chain. Manufacture New York will offer access to shared pattern tables, digital patternmaking, automated cutting, screen printing, digital textile printing, full fashion knitting and sewing production equipment for sampling, and development and production of approved AFFOA projects.

The national partnership, Advanced Functional Fibers of America (AFFOA), whose headquarters will be established in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near the MIT campus, won a national competition for federal funding to create the latest Manufacturing Innovation Institute. This is the eighth Manufacturing Innovation Institute established to date, and the first to be headquartered in the Northeast.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made the announcement at a news conference held at MIT on April 1. A wide range of industries are expected to benefit from these revolutionary fibers and textiles, including apparel, consumer products, automotive, medical devices, and consumer electronics.

Manufacture New York CEO Bob Bland will serve as the deputy director of Apprenticeships and Internships, and in partnership with FIT, local and state government support, and inclusive outreach to all interested New York stakeholders, will establish a regional training hub for New York, committed to year-round apprenticeship and internships. “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.

“FIT, as a college of the State University of New York, is delighted to be part of this exciting public-private collaboration and to have the opportunity to share the special expertise that exists among our faculty of industry professionals,” said FIT president, Dr. Joyce F. Brown. “We are committed to using our expertise in the areas of textiles from the design process through production, and look forward to supporting AFFOA and Manufacture NY in this innovative and exciting partnership.”

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

Manufacture New York, in partnership with FIT, joins the nationwide collaborative infrastructure known as the Fabric Innovation Network (FIN), which consists of small- and medium-sized domestic manufacturers (SMEs), large corporations, academic labs, and NPO’s across more than twenty states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico that have committed unique and dedicated capacity in support of AFFOA projects.

The proposal for the national Manufacturing Innovation Institute was led by Professor Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). The partnership includes 31 universities, 16 industry members, 72 manufacturing entities, and 26 startup incubators, spread across 28 states.

This unique partnership, Fink says, has the potential to create a whole new industry, based on breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing. These new fibers and the fabrics made from them will 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 through cost sharing among the Department of Defense, industrial partners, venture capitalists, and state government funding. The funding will cover a five-year period and will be administered through the 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.

Image: FIT Flickr