Shirts and shoes with wearable electronics embedded in them to measure vital signs. Building materials with built-in sensors that can detect unseen structural flaws or damage. Medical textiles that can help heal wounds. Those are some of the innovations that could come to fruition at UMass Lowell’s Fabric Discovery Center
, a new research and development facility that brings together researchers, industry and public agencies to develop and manufacture 21st century materials.
Established with a $10 million grant from the state, the center officially opened its doors in July at an event attended by Gov. Charlie Baker, UMass President Marty Meehan, elected officials, representatives of businesses and university administrators, faculty and students. Housed alongside the university’s Innovation Hub
business incubator at 110 Canal St. in downtown Lowell, the center offers 28,000 square feet of space for research, design, prototyping, pilot manufacturing and testing of advanced materials.
Baker hailed the facility as the future of manufacturing in Massachusetts. “This new Fabric Discovery Center will bolster the advanced manufacturing sector in the commonwealth by promoting innovation, R&D and advanced technologies, cementing Massachusetts’ place as a global leader in innovation,” he said.
Baker also announced a $1 million grant from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2) to support robotics research and development at the university.
UML’s New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center
, which is also located at 110 Canal St., will be the home for the robotics investment from M2I2. NERVE is a testbed for robotics systems and is used as a training center by faculty and students as well as Massachusetts robotics companies, software developers and manufacturers looking to evaluate their systems.
Baker and others said the Fabric Discovery Center creates a national model for collaboration between three Manufacturing USA Innovation Institutes: Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), Flexible Hybrid Electronics (NextFlex) and Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM).
“The opening of the UMass Lowell Fabric Discovery Center is a powerful demonstration of this university’s national leadership in translating cutting-edge research into solutions that improve people’s lives,” said Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.
The center will include textile assembly and finishing equipment, new inks for 3-D printing, roll-to-roll processing, and a wide range of testing capabilities, including electrical, mechanical, thermal, topography, flammability, durability, movement, biometrics and human and robot performance.
The developments that are spun out from the facility will drive growth in the state’s economy, said Julie Chen, UMass Lowell’s vice chancellor for research and innovation.
“UMass Lowell’s Fabric Discovery Center will enable companies to design, test and create new products and technologies, helping to grow the workforce and shape tomorrow’s economy,” she said.