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Why Drexel is setting up a smart-fabric manufacturing and research center

Drexel University will house Pennsylvania’s first Fabric Discovery Center, a statewide hub aimed at manufacturing and research on smart fabrics. It’s a partnership between Drexel and the Department of Defense–backed Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA).

The center, the first such hub outside of AFFOA’s home state of Massachusetts, will be housed in the Schuylkill Yards development. The plans will also bring together research and expertise from universities across the state that are also members of AFFOA, including Carnegie Mellon, Penn State University and Jefferson University.

The partnership with Drexel is the first move in what the organization — a public-private partnership led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — hopes will be a national network of similar hubs to stimulate production of functional fabrics.

Drexel professor Genevieve Dion, director of the Center For Functional Fabrics, said the new hub will play a role in growing Pennsylvania’s advanced manufacturing capacities.

“The Fabric Discovery Center will build upon Pennsylvania’s rich textile history and bring together academic and industrial expertise statewide to create an ecosystem that supports innovation, collaboration and education,” said Dion, who also runs the Shima Seiki Haute Tech Lab at Drexel’s ExCITe Center.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was pumped for the announcement:

“Last year, I got to travel to Massachusetts with the team from Drexel to celebrate the awarding of grant funding that the Department of Defense gave to a consortium of Pennsylvania institutions,” Wolf said. “While I was there I took the opportunity to tout just how great of a match Pennsylvania is for manufacturing innovation.”

First up on the product pipeline at the new center will be a “functional fabric touch sensor” which works like a textile touch pad to detect movements and pressure. The aim is for the sensor to be produced as a maker kit at the center, with New York manufacturer Apex Mills working to mass-produce the fabric sensor for other markets and applications.

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