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Functional Fabrics at Drexel University

Drexel University is a founding partner in Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), a new national manufacturing innovation institute whose mission is to accelerate the growth of advanced fibers and functional fabrics manufacturing in defense and commercial markets. Made possible by a $75M award from the Department of Defense, this new national public-private partnership has established Drexel as a regional center for the sustainable and high-tech functional fabrics manufacturing ecosystem.

Advanced Manufacturing

Historically, U.S. manufacturing has been recognized as a world leader in R&D and innovation. Decline in U.S. manufacturing over the last two decades is threatening the country’s global competitiveness and economic vitality. The 2011 report to President Obama, Ensuring America’s Leadership on Advanced Manufacturing (AM), states that the path to rejuvenating U.S. leadership in manufacturing is to promote AM. Advanced Manufacturing is defined as new methods of manufacturing products that include a group of activities combining and relying on system infrastructure (information, computation, software, sensing, and networking), and/or the use of new innovative material. Securing U.S. leadership in AM presents unique opportunities for U.S. institutions in the 21st century, which will constructively disrupt current models of research and education.

Transdisciplinary in nature, AM presents new challenges to the world of design, science and engineering—specifically as to how these disciplines relate and work together to accelerate and stimulate AM. As a comprehensive research university, Drexel’s vision of advancing knowledge through experiential and technology-infused education offers a unique context to explore a reciprocal dialogue between disciplines and address the future challenges of AM.

knitting machine

Functional Fabrics

Functional fabrics are textiles engineered to perform a specific function in a wide array of industries from medical to aerospace to wearables. They represent the largest growing textile-manufacturing sector in the U.S. and are expected to continue to expand for many years to come. According to a 2014 report from Transparency Market Research (TMR), it was estimated that $8.5 billion or 46 percent of the total textile mill product exports were functional fabrics. The global technical textile market is forecasted to expand significantly from $133.93 billion in 2012 to $160.38 billion by 2018. The 2015 ITRA Technical Textiles Top Markets Report predicts that most of that growth will be attributed to innovative product development. The wearable electronics market alone, valued at $2.7 billion in 2012, is expected to reach $8.3 billion by 2018, primarily across the health, fitness, military, and industrial sectors. While many of these technologies provide high-tech capabilities, they are still primarily worn as add-ons to the clothes we wear. This places fundamental limits on their active surface area, utility, comfort, and convenience. Imagine if the gap between the device and the apparel did not exist. What would the world look like if the textile itself was the device? The complexity of these textile devices will require large collaborative networks to make them a reality. Seamless integration of flexible circuitry, sensors, antennas, and power sources are key components to the reliable and successful operation of any functional fabrics that are incorporated with fully developed supply chains platforms, and apps.


Genevieve Dion

Genevieve Dion is an award-winning designer with an extensive background in bespoke clothing and industrial design. Her research focuses on identifying production methods that advance the field of smart fabrics to create textile devices.Textile devices are complex systems that blend modes of communication, diagnostics, and functional technologies into unobtrusive fabrics. Dion founded the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory, a state of the art knitting facility dedicated to the design and prototyping of smart and technical textiles. Dion works with transdisciplinary teams to integrate electronics into textiles and to research versatile production methods that are mass customizable. Our fabric production knowledge instills materials scientists and engineers with a new sense of how to design new materials to be integrated into the textile fabrication process so that they are compatible with large-scale manufacturing.