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From the Desk of Jack Healy

Here's How You Can Join the Revolution

Jack Healy – The voice of manufacturing in Massachusetts
Jack Healy – A Voice for Manufacturing in Massachusetts

By Jack Healy, President and CEO, MassMEP
jackh@massmep.org

In the year 2000, one of the first initiatives of MassMEP was to initiate a grant that provided funds to educate high school students about career opportunities in the textile industry. But the program could not compete with the real life visuals of shuttered mills and negative headlines, so the program was dropped. Domestic and state textile industry growth continued to decline until 2009 when it experienced, along with all of manufacturing, a serious contraction that forced the industry to a tipping point. Since that time, the national and statewide textile industry has completely turned around after significant investment in automation and robotics.

Jeff Price, outgoing chairman of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NTCO), noted that the current U.S. Textile Industry represents a remarkable turnaround with 2015 shipments of $76 billion dollars, an increase of 14% since 2009. Mr. Price's report went on to state, "The index for Capacity Utilization for Textile Mills is up 39% vs. 17% for all of U. S. Manufacturing."

Growing capital expenditures are also a clear sign of the textile industry's positive outlook as the industry sector spent $2 billion on capital expenditures in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

The focus of Textile Mills in Massachusetts on automation and lean manufacturing produced:

  • 21% increase in shipments per employee, 2014 vs 2009
  • 24% increase in value added per employee, 2014 vs 2009

In addition, Textile Mills is one of the very few manufacturing sectors that has more employees working now than in 2009!

While the textile industry has become more productive and has cleaned up it's "Norma Rae" image, there is a realization that they must continue moving up the technology ladder to grow.

As noted in MIT's report, "Production in the Innovation Economy," there is an important relationship between an industry's manufacturing capabilities and its ability to innovate. Advanced manufacturing capabilities are essential for developing new products, processes, and services, as well as for initiating new capabilities in emerging industries. This leaves us with the question of how to grow such manufacturing capabilities in an industry that is fragmented and unconnected to research. In textiles, 66% of the enterprises are firms with less than 9 employees and are left to figure out the future on their own.

The answer has been the establishment of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) a national non-profit organization located in Massachusetts that is backed by industry, academia, government, and venture capital. AFFOA works to accelerate widespread commercialization of highly functional fabrics through its National Fabric Innovation Network. The Network delivers revolutionary advances across the entire fabric supply chain, from multifunctional fibers to advanced non woven and yarn production to sophisticated weaving and knitting capabilities. They also provide end-product fabrication for first to market manufacturing opportunities.

University Hub partners are located in 25 states and methodologies are developed at MIT and other universities. The result is the creation of regional startups and innovation ecosystems that form distributed startup incubators nationwide.

AFFOA will offer a number of key services to industry, including an on demand physical and digital archive of fiber and fabric properties, and a wide array of modeling capabilities. The AFFOA Advisory Board is developing a set of manufacturing thrusts that will support the organization's overall technology roadmap, selecting projects from a variety of sources including start up incubators and external customers. AFFOA's core strength will be in rapid and agile construction of project and product-specific supply chains through its collaborative infrastructure.

AFFOA's mission is to revolutionize textiles, generate innovative products, and create manufacturing jobs across a wide range of U.S. industries and sectors along the entire supply chain. This mission was echoed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker who made the state of Massachusetts an investor in the Institute. He stated that AFFOA "will serve as a National leader by providing a vital piece of innovation infrastructure to support the development of the next-generation of manufacturing technology and the development of a highly skilled workforce."

If you are a small manufacturing enterprise that designs, makes, models, measures, supplies, or integrates fibers, yarns, and fabrics for defense and civilian applications from apparel to medical sensors, you are welcome to join the AFFOA National Fabric Innovation Network. As an AFFOA member you can gain access to cutting edge technologies and spearhead projects positioned to define the "Fabric Revolution," the future of fiber and textile manufacturing.

For more information, contact Tina Gillman, Tina@AFFOA.org

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