Defense Department funding high-tech fabrics institute in Cambridge

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (State House News Service) – Cambridge will be home to a $317 million venture, funded partially by the U.S. Defense Department, marrying universities and industry in support of advances in textile technology, according to government and higher education officials.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the Baker administration plan to announce the establishment of New England’s first headquarters for a Manufacturing Innovation Institute on Friday.

There are seven other similar institutes nationwide, including one focused on digital manufacturing in Chicago, a San Jose, Calif. institute focusing on flexible electronics, and a center in Raleigh, N.C. geared toward semiconductor components.

A powerhouse of textile manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution, Massachusetts will now be home to research in “technical textiles” or “highly functional fabrics,” with heat-resistance and medical applications.

“Our institute will go everywhere a fiber and fabric goes,” said a statement from Yoel Fink, director of MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, who led the proposal.

The Baker administration has committed $40 million in matching capital funds at the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Institute, according to a Baker administration official. Described as a public-private partnership, the institute will be located nearby MIT, according to the university, which said the funding, including $75 million from the federal government, will cover five years.

“This manufacturing innovation institute will be the national leader in developing and commercializing textiles with extraordinary properties,” Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “It will extend our ongoing efforts to nurture emerging industries, and grow them to scale in Massachusetts to an exciting new field. And it will serve as a vital piece of innovation infrastructure, to support the development of the next generation of manufacturing technology, and the development of a highly skilled workforce.”

The venture brings together MIT, the University of Massachusetts, and Quinsigamond Community College in a partnership that includes 31 universities, 16 industry participants, 72 manufacturers and 26 startup incubators in 28 states, according to the Baker administration and MIT.

UMass-Amherst in 2015 was also chosen to be the lead institution in New England for the Department of Defense’s Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute,

Fink, who is listed as director of the Functional Fabrics Institute, said it will involve “key participation by the Natick Soldier Research Development & Engineering Center.”

“Revolutionary fabrics and fibers are modernizing everything from battlefield communication to medical care,” said Congressman Joe Kennedy in a statement. “That the Commonwealth would be chosen to lead the way is no surprise. From Lowell to Fall River, our ability to merge cutting-edge technology with age-old ingenuity has sparked a new day for the textile industry.”

Kennedy’s office said he co-sponsored legislation signed into law in 2014 that expanded an Obama administration pilot program building networks of institutes around the United States.

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