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Best timing of a news release ever

April 8th, 2016 / By: / My Take

By now, I would suppose that all you have to say to those in the textile industry is “$317 million” and they’ll know what you’re talking about. Last Friday the U.S. Dept. of Defense and MIT announced a consortium including academia, industry and government established to research and manufacture advanced materials, particularly with applications for the U.S. Military.

Specifically, the announcement says that the consortium will focus on “integrating flexible fibers and yarns with integrated circuits, LEDs, solar cells and other capabilities to create fabrics that can see, hear, sense, communicate, store energy, monitor health and change color.” The technology could lead to military uniforms that regulate temperature, power equipment, or detect and warn about hazards like chemical or radioactive elements.

So, we’re talking smart fabric technology, the topic for our features in April and May. News like this doesn’t fall in an editor’s lap every day, particularly right when I plan on talking about it. If you want to get a sense of the magnitude of the announcement, beyond the infusion of capital (that is impressive, to be sure), I recommend you read Seshadri Ramkumar’s article on this site, “U.S. boosts funding for next generation textiles development.”

What’s smart?

Think of textiles along a continuum. On one end are the industrial textiles used for years in important, traditional markets (marine, tents, awnings, flexible containers and other applications). On the other end are the highly specialized and extremely technical fabrics used in hazmat suits, biomedical products, wearables and other smart technologies. Would you know where, exactly, to draw a line and say, “This is ‘smart’ technology and this side isn’t?” Furthermore, many “everyday” textiles are so high performance in terms of their capabilities that they, too, have become extraordinary.

Smart textiles, for our purposes, are those that can sense and react to environmental conditions or stimuli from mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical or magnetic sources. That covers so much ground that I thought we better divide up the topic into two months worth of coverage. April’s features will focus on smart fabrics that do not use e-textile technology. Debra Cobb’s article “The other smart textiles,” discusses specific developments that are not just an idea in a lab, but commercialized products with serious potential to impact the market’s numbers. In May we’ll talk about e-textiles, specifically.

It’s a fascinating industry to watch, and I have to say that I’m getting an increasing number of press releases about this segment of the industry. There is so much growth—and so much more potential growth. In fact, predictions for the potential value of the smart textiles market range from $1.59 billion to $4.72 billion by 2020. This is about to be helped along by that $317 million.

Additionally, IFAI co-hosts a special Smart Fabrics Summit with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce April 11 in Washington, D.C., and, of course, I’ll have coverage of that event on this site.

Once again, good timing!

Janet Preus is senior editor of Advanced Textiles Source.