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How collaborative projects may change the future of textiles

Collaborative projects could change the future of textiles.

Advanced Textiles, Markets | December 1, 2023 | By: Fiona Baxter, Ph.D., and Michael Mullins

The North Carolina Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program (NC DMCSP) serves and supports textile manufacturers on the edge of discoveries that produce innovation in advanced textiles, wearables and technologies that maximize soldier survivability, sustainability, mobility, combat effectiveness and field quality of life. The NC DMCSP is administered by North Carolina State University Industry Expansion Solutions.

A collaborative ecosystem

Funding provided through the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation (OLDCC) positions NC DMCSP to advance smart textiles to not only increase warfighter performance but also add other functionalities, including health monitoring, communications, enhanced mobility, survivability, reduction of heat, camouflage and signature management, physiological status monitoring, and detection of chemical/biological threats.

NC DMCSP’s Ideation and Product Innovation team tracks DoD needs related to warfighter performance and health optimization, identifies potential solutions, forms teams to pursue funding opportunities and provides custom commercialization services. This team works closely with the NC DMCSP Entrepreneurship and Commercialization team to recruit and select participants for its “Propeller” program cohorts, and it assists in finding funding, technical support, facilities, partners and customers.  

“We needed help finding our first customers,” says Catherine Burge, CEO of Aarogy Innovative Textiles LLC, headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. “The NC DMCSP team researched the market for products addressing the problems Aarogy’s textiles solve, identified key players and introduced us to a leading apparel manufacturer in this space that is now evaluating Aarogy’s material.” 

Financial assistance is primarily focused on finding non-dilutive funding opportunities through the DoD and other federal agency grant and contract mechanisms, but the team is also building an investor community around wearable and textile technology to fill gaps in funding from early- through late-stage development. The ecosystem needs all types of investors, from angel investors and venture capitalists through corporate venture arms and private equity, to ensure an uninterrupted path to commercialization.
in the government and private sectors.

Innovation at work

Manufacturing smart textile technologies requires adopting new materials and methods (such as new fibers, yarns, inks and dyes embedded with advanced technology), smoother and more extensive innovation-production connections, and a technically skilled workforce.

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in textile manufacturing is a relatively new technology capable of delivering higher quality fibers, fabrics and yarns for warfighter textile applications. Through the use of data and predictive analytics, AI can help minimize variation between raw material, machine or environmental states, and the finished goods. Other implications for the DoD include the convergence of AI tools and use of predictive analytics for monitoring warfighter health and performance in the field.

Smart and e-textile applications require a variety of microelectronics to collect, send and receive data. Successful integration of microelectronics into textiles for warfighter applications will support several DoD thrusts, including soldier systems, cybersecurity and biotechnology. Applicable uses in the DoD market include smart textile designs, liquid metals for stretchable conductors, fabric antennas and flexible printed circuit boards.

A range of advancements

A sample of DMCSP entrepreneurs, manufacturers and research organizations with recent technological advancements shows the range of research and development supported.

Enhanced sleep. Nuream Inc. is a neurodata-science company based in Wilmington, N.C. Its technology is enabled by novel, noninvasive neurocapture fabrics and materials that harness brain wave data to improve wellness, performance and health care outcomes. The company’s solutions are dual-use technologies and applications, improving the lives of warfighters and consumers alike. Its applications fit in the current Brain Health Initiative and the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team and multiple U.S. government agencies’ initiatives studying how to enhance individuals’ sleep patterns, such as increasing sleep time and quality.

The Nuream hypothesis holds that neurodata can deliver a novel, noninvasive brain wave to neurosensing fabric, then can direct condition-specific algorithms to harness this protected neurodata. Nuream’s Brain Machine Body Exchange enables data-driven decision support to improve wellness, performance and health care outcomes. 

Immediate applications of this neurosensing fabric include pillow coverings, wrist-based wearables, and performance or wellness wear. While the technology addresses sleep as the first targeted outcome, there are many other areas where it could be used, including concussive injury assessment and recovery as well as improvement of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and neurological disease states.

Light harnessing. Lumiton®, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., and founded by Marco Scipioni and Gates Hinds, has developed and patented sustainable, synthetic light-smartclothing that harnesses sunlight and emits red and near-infrared light. This light-harnessing fabric technology gives consumers access to the cellular-level wellness of “red light therapy” via everyday clothing. Clothing that uses Lumiton technology is also exceptionally cool and UV-protective. 

Red light therapy is associated with many health benefits, including cellular energy, collagen production, blood circulation, lymph system activity, tissue oxygenation, tissue repair, muscle growth, antioxidant activity, muscle recovery and even hair regrowth. The markets applicable for the technology include activewear, health care, workwear and the military. 

Transforming clothing to provide light-driven wellness elevates synthetic fibers into a new class of useful goods. The product’s yarns are solution-dyed, which uses up to 95% less water and 85% less energy than traditional dyeing, and the technology is compatible with recycled polymers. Additionally, solution-dyed yarns generally improve colorfastness. 

Chem-bio threat detection. Rock Spring Bio is developing enzyme-based technologies to detect and/or remediate chemical and biological threats through wearable sensors and textile treatments. Applications include wearable sensors for threat detection; anti-biofouling products for chemical and biological hazard mitigation; therapeutic peptide production; and liquids, textiles and nanoparticles of anti-microbial products.   

Using biomimicry. Small World Sciences LLC of Morrisville, N.C., partnered with NC State University to develop fibers and textiles with infrared (heat) reflective and emissive properties based on biomimicry of the Saharan silver ant, which evolved to survive in extreme desert conditions. This unique concept has been scientifically validated through a National Science Foundation-funded project at Columbia University.

Pain-relief fabric. Nufabrx, headquartered in North Carolina and a graduate of the Manufacturing Solutions Center’s incubator program, was ranked number 50 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing private companies in 2021 for innovation in the pain-relief market. In collaboration with Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, the company developed fabrics infused
with pain-relief medications. 

An invitation

Maximizing warfighter survivability, sustainability, mobility, combat effectiveness and field quality of life requires diverse products that consider the warfighter as a system and include textile-related items such as body armor, clothing and footwear. The commercial market provides stabilizing revenue for existing defense contractors and opportunities for new players to modify consumer gear for the defense market.

Because more than 40% of U.S. textiles are produced in the state of North Carolina, the goal of increasing the number of North Carolina textile companies participating in the defense industry base ultimately contributes to a more resilient DoD supply chain. NC DMCSP also recognizes the critical need to provide leadership and sector collaboration that addresses issues involving the circular economy. 

Dr. Fiona Baxter is the associate executive director of NC State’s Industry Expansion Solutions, assistant director of the NC Manufacturing Extension Partnership and principal investigator of the NC DMCSP. Michael Mullins is the director of the North Carolina Defense Industry Diversification Initiative at NC State’s Industry Expansion Solutions.

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