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Clemson, Milliken, Inman Mills team on textile project

Human Resources
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Researchers at the Clemson University Center for Workforce Development have been chosen to develop virtual reality training programs and help veterans find jobs as part of a $317 million national program aiming to upgrade textile industry technologies. Other participants in the public-private program from South Carolina are Milliken & Co., Inman Mills and the S.C. Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a statement from Clemson University said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has announced the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America plan today at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Carter said the efforts are expected to add more than 50,000 jobs in a wide range of U.S. industries by 2025, while advancing textile products that can see, hear, sense, communicate, monitor health, change color, and store and convert energy, the statement said. The independent nonprofit’s plan is intended to provide key services to industry, ranging from building prototypes to helping educate the employees who will work in textile plants of the future, the statement said.

A researcher at the Clemson University Center for Center for Workforce Development demonstrates a virtual reality simulation. (Photo provided)

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The goal is to enable American companies to expand and capture a bigger share of the global technical textiles market. Some of the globe’s most recognizable brands are involved, including Corning, DuPont, Intel, Nike, The North Face and Timberland, the statement said.

Three proposed projects are physical and digital archiving of fiber and fabric properties; design and manufacturing of low-emissivity uniforms for the military, and manufacturing of fabrics that convert sunlight to electrical power.

Participants include 16 industry members, 31 universities, 72 manufacturing entities and 26 startup incubators in 28 states and Puerto Rico.

The new initiative will receive $75 million in federal funding out of a total of $317 million though cost sharing among the Department of Defense, industrial partners, venture capitalists and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The funding will cover a five-year period and will be administered through the new, independent nonprofit organization, the statement said.

Workforce Development Center Operations Director Kris Frady said a South Carolina-based pilot program will make virtual reality training tools, including factory simulations specific to fiber and textile facilities. They will also develop two iBooks on fiber and textile manufacturing careers, one targeted toward women and one for veterans, the statement said.

“The textile technology revolution will need skilled employees, and that’s where the Center for Workforce Development can help,” she said in the statement.

Frady will serve as veteran integration deputy on the leadership team. As part of her role, she will coordinate government efforts to get veterans the skills they will need to qualify for jobs in the advanced textile industry, the statement said.

“We are honoring a commitment to support veterans that goes back to Clemson’s founding as a military academy,” said Frady, also an assistant professor in the Eugene T. Moore School of Education.

Kapil Chalil Madathil, director of technology operations at the center, said its previous work includes developing “cutting-edge virtual reality simulations that allow students to repeatedly practice tasks in a safe environment.” Chalil Madathil said the simulations “add a level of authenticity that helps students remember their lessons.”

One of the virtual reality simulations the center developed allows students to move through a manufacturing plant from a first-person viewpoint to learn about safety, the statement said. With other simulations, students take apart machines and put them back together to better learn how they work.

The simulations have been included in EducateWorkforce, a program used by more than 1,000 students in 22 states, the statement said.

“The beauty of our involvement in Advanced Functional Fabrics of America is that we already have laid the groundwork and have shown these simulations work,” Chalil Madathil said. “Now we need to adapt it to the specific needs of the advanced fiber and textile industry.”

The simulations were developed through the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Center for Aviation and Automotive Technological Education Using Virtual E-Schools, also known as CA2VES, the statement said.

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