David Breen to Serve on Drexel Team Supporting National Network for Advanced Functional Fabrics Manufacturing

The U.S. Department of Defense has tapped Drexel University as a key leader in the creation of a $75 million national research institute that will support American textile manufacturers in bringing sophisticated new materials and textiles to the marketplace. The institute, called Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), will be a national manufacturing resource center for industry and government to draw on academic expertise in new fibers and textiles. The result will be fabrics engineered to see, hear, sense and communicate; serving an array of industries including aerospace, apparel, architecture and health.

As part of a multi-college, interdisciplinary group of researchers comprising the Drexel AFFOA team, College of Computing & Informatics Associate Professor and Director of the Drexel Geometric Biomedical Computing Group, David Breen, PhD, and College of Engineering Associate Professor and Director of theTheoretical and Applied Mechanics Group, Antonios Kontsos, PhD, will be deploying computational modeling programs that will enable AFFOA partners to anticipate manufacturing challenges before they arise and create strategies for surmounting them.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter formally recognized Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) as one of the White House’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institutes in a ceremony at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on April 1. The NNMI initiative is a $317 million public-private effort to boost the value of American-made products on the international market, by using new materials and manufacturing methods. MIT, Drexel, the University of Central Florida and Cornell University are cornerstones of the institute because of their complementary research endeavors in novel fibers for textiles, rapid textile prototyping and computer simulation.

Drexel will receive funding from the institute to address fundamental barriers to innovation in functional fabrics and to facilitate new textile product development. Drexel will continue its innovative product development efforts, such as abellyband for uterine monitoring,touch-sensitive skin for robots, ahaptic glove for hand therapy and textiles that can store energy. It will also support engineers and computer scientists who are creating methods for modeling, designing and testing the structure of threads and fabrics in order to predict their performance in textiles, as well as continuing Drexel’s efforts as an incubator for start-up companies.

The center for functional fabrics research will develop advanced textiles, including touch-sensitive fabrics, for uses in aerospace, apparel, architecture and health care.

“The fact that the DoD has identified functional fabrics as a critical focus for U.S. advanced manufacturing is validation for Drexel, where we’ve been working on smart textiles for nearly a decade,” said Drexel President John A. Fry. “We’re proud to be a leader in launching this new industry with our public and private partners in AFFOA. Drexel’s commitment to interdisciplinary translational research as an economic driver led directly to this moment.”

The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America group includes 31 academic institutions, including The University of Texas, The Ohio State University, the University of Michigan and the University of California – Davis. It counts 16 companies as industry partners, NIKE, Microsoft, Goodyear, The North Face, Bose and Medtronic among them. In addition, 26 start-up incubators and venture capital groups, including Angel Capital Association, Westbury Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners have joined AFFOA.

Drexel will serve as the anchor for partners in the mid-Atlantic region, linking institutions such as Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, Temple University, the MEDstudio at Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University to manufacturing and investment partners like DuPont, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeast Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia Office of Manufacturing and Industry and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

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