Advanced Functional Fibers of America (AFFOA) Announcement

Friday, April 1, 2016

Please be seated.  Good morning!  

I am Rafael Reif, MIT’s President—and I am delighted to welcome you to our campus on this historic day.

As many of you know, MIT was founded in the middle of the 19th century intentionally to accelerate America’s industrial revolution.  At the time, Massachusetts was humming with textile mills. Today, I am thrilled that MIT is part of a process that will make the whole country hum with the sound of a new and revolutionary fiber and textile industry.

This morning, we announce the dawn of a fabric revolution—one that it is enabled by manufacturing. At MIT, we are in the innovation business. And advanced manufacturing is innovation. It is innovation at scale. Innovation remains the distinctive US advantage. The United States has no shortage of smart, motivated people with brilliant new ideas. 

But the truth is that we have lost our lead in manufacturing. The US has lost jobs to countries whose economies are built on low-cost labor. Thousands of US jobs have disappeared, and hundreds of mills have closed their doors. Models predict that in the decades ahead, an additional 50,000 jobs will be lost in the textile sector alone.

AFFOA represents an opportunity to reverse that trend by enabling a new era of workforce development and economic growth, based on fibers and textiles. 

And these are no ordinary fibers and textiles.  The future that AFFOA envisions would even make science fiction writers sit up and take notice:

  • Clothes that cool, change color, adjust size and take photos.
  • “Smart” homes that monitor, anticipate and react all by themselves.
  • Medical devices that detect health emergencies before they happen.

The materials that AFFOA will manufacture have applications in products ranging from adhesives to computer chips to batteries to airplanes. In the last few years, we have gradually gotten used to the concept of the “Internet of Things.” And today, we introduce you to the “Internet of Fabrics:” a new universe of fabrics that are highly functional and digitally connected. To deliver that vision, AFFOA will build on fundamental research conducted at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology, funded by the US Army.

Yoel Fink, a member of the MIT faculty and the Director and CEO of AFFOA, describes the potential of AFFOA as the fiber equivalent of Moore’s Law—you might call it the “AFFOA Law.” The number of devices in a fiber will double every 12 months, inventing an industry that does not yet exist.  Not just a handful of products, but a whole new industry.

Making a step as bold and daring as that will require the collective wisdom, resources and support of all of us. At MIT, we believe deeply in the power of collaboration. In that spirit, I was honored to serve as co-chair, with Dow Chemical’s Andrew Liveris, of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0. And I know my predecessor, MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield, feels the same way about her service on AMP 1.0. AMP demonstrated that a public/private partnership can develop far-reaching technology strategies that no single sector can achieve alone.

And in this room this morning, we have a unique collection of people and industries brought together by the collaborative vision of AFFOA. 

Among us today, we have:

  • fashion designers from New York;
  • chip manufacturers from Silicon Valley;
  • clothing companies from North Carolina;
  • textile mill owners from New Hampshire; and
  • and one terrific US Secretary of Defense.

As honored as I am to host all of you on our campus, I want to be clear that today is not about MIT. It is not even about Massachusetts. Today is about opportunity—the opportunity to reimagine one of the oldest forms of human expression while building a skilled workforce, creating the jobs of the future, and growing the economy in Cambridge, in Massachusetts and across the United States.

An effort of this magnitude requires the leadership and hard work of a cast of thousands.  I would like to take a moment to acknowledge just a few of the key individuals who have brought us to this point.

General Paul Kern, Chairman of AFFOA, whose guidance has been invaluable throughout this process.

From MIT:

  • Michelle Christy;
  • Ron Haseltine;
  • Suzanne Glassburn; and
  • the staff of the Research Lab of Electronics

Professor Yoel Fink and Tina Gilman have moved mountains to make AFFOA a reality. With patience and perseverance, they have managed to get the entire AFFOA ecosystem moving in the same direction. Yoel and Tina: Thank you.

I also offer my admiration and gratitude to MIT Provost Marty Schmidt and Professor Krystyn Van Vliet. They have been champions for advanced manufacturing inside MIT and on behalf of the nation as a whole.

And I want to acknowledge the critical support of a number of city, state and federal leaders, many of whom are with us today:

  • Secretary Ash Carter;
  • Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf; and
  • From our state:
    • Governor Charlie Baker;
    • Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash; and
    • Assistant Secretary of Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship Katie Stebbins

My thanks, also, to the Massachusetts delegation in Congress, including:

  • Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren; and
  • Representatives Michael Capuano, Katherine Clark, Joseph Kennedy, Seth Moulton and Nicki Tsongas

Thank you all very much.

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It is now my honor to welcome US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter back to MIT. And I say “back,” because he knows MIT well. In the 1980s, he served as a fellow at MIT’s Center for International Studies.  A few years ago, when I was Provost, we worked together on the board of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. And just a few months ago, he joined us on campus for a discussion about cutting-edge innovation in industries like biotech, health care and energy.

He has worked, directly and indirectly, with eleven secretaries of defense, in both Democratic and Republican administrations. With that track record, AFFOA should be a breeze.

Please join me in welcoming US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.