By: Rowena Lindsay
"In a small industrial building at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a 20-foot fiber draw tower is steadily pulling a strand of plastic and winding it around a large spool. To the untrained eye, it looks like an ordinary thread, but the fibers made at Lincoln Laboratory's newly opened Defense Fabric Discovery Center (DFDC) are anything but ordinary. The end-to-end prototyping facility is equipped to design and produce fabrics that can change color, store energy, emit and detect light, monitor health, or facilitate communication.
"On 27 October, the Laboratory welcomed more than 120 guests to see this new technology in action at the DFDC ribbon-cutting ceremony. The event featuring speeches from prominent contributors to the project, exhibits from local textile and fiber manufacturers, and tours of the new facility.
"...The DFDC was born of a collaboration between the Laboratory, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA). AFFOA is a non-profit founded by MIT, funded in part by the Department of Defense through the Manufacturing Technology Program, that is working to accelerate fiber and fabric innovation. The DFDC is one of a network of fabric discovery centers founded by AFFOA and is the first to focus on the defense applications of advanced fibers and fabrics.
"One project the DFDC will work on is improving soldiers' uniforms. Depending on their operational role, soldiers may be required to carry more than 100 pounds of protective clothing, weapons, and gear. This weight can compromise the effectiveness of a warfighter. Despite the bulk, the equipment still fails to account for some of the soldiers' needs on the battlefield, such as health monitoring and energy production and storage. By integrating advanced sensing, energy, and communication microelectronics into the fabric of soldiers' uniforms and gear, DFDC researchers could create lightweight solutions to these needs.
"...The knowledge that we gain by actually doing that advanced manufacturing ourselves leads us to the next generation of innovation," Ira Moskowitz, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Programs Innovation Institute of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, said in a speech at the ceremony. "As a state and as a country, we cannot continue to innovate here and maintain our technological leadership if we continue to send our technology overseas for manufacturing."
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