Iowa State a partner in new textile manufacturing institute

AMES, Iowa – Iowa State University is part of a new $317 million public-private partnership working to improve the design and function of protective clothing for military, emergency responders and other professionals.

The Department of Defense announced today it is dedicating $75 million over five years to the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) partnership to create the Revolutionary Fiber and Textile Manufacturing Innovation Institute, based at MIT. The remaining funding will come through cost sharing among the participants.

Guowen Song

Guowen Song Photo courtesy: Ryan Riley, College of Human Sciences

Guowen Song, an associate professor and the Noma Scott Lloyd Chair in Textiles and Clothing, will lead Iowa State’s team of researchers in apparel design, materials science and engineering, and kinesiology. The multidisciplinary approach will allow the team to conduct a systematic study on improving clothing performance, from novel textile materials, to garment design, performance analysis and model development, to guarantee they function as required.  

“Design is not just for fashion and looking good,” Song said. “This is a great opportunity to focus on new novel textiles, fibers and polymers and see how the new technology can really change the performance of the protective gear.”

The institute’s primary technical focus is revolutionary fibers and textiles which could be used for new military gear. The work will also extend to other areas, including Song’s area of expertise – protective clothing, such as firefighter gear, hospital wear and industry use. Iowa State has developed several high-tech systems and labs that can test clothing comfort, heat stress, and its response to flames, hot liquids and chemicals, as well as simulate how the body reacts in various conditions.

“This research has the potential to touch so many lives, whether it leads to improved protective gear for the worker, or for the person depending on that worker. Our faculty has the tools and expertise to make a difference in technical and functional clothing design and contribute to the goals of this new institute,” said Pamela White, dean of Iowa State’s College of Human Sciences.  

Researchers will examine the entire clothing system – jackets, pants, boots, gloves and helmets – to make sure the system functions as one. The goal is to make the clothing lighter and reduce its stress on the body, while improving function and protection. Song says there are a lot of challenges, but also opportunities to use new fibers, textiles and wearable electronics.

“It’s possible to embed a very small sensor in the textiles, or make the textile a sensor that monitors your body’s temperature or blood pressure. It’s possible for any protective gear, so that we can monitor heat strain or stress on the body and reduce accidents and injuries,” Song said.

Iowa State is one of 31 universities, along with 16 industry members, 26 startup incubators and other partners that make up the AFFOA network. The Revolutionary Fiber and Textile Manufacturing Innovation Institute is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which is designed to increase advanced manufacturing in the U.S.