Philadelphia's Drexel University has opened the doors to its new US$7m research and development centre dedicated to exploring innovation in the advanced manufacturing of functional fabrics.

Located at 3101 Market Street, the 10,000 sq ft facility is a joint endeavour funded by federal and state government organisations to support the creation and advanced manufacturing of innovative textile technology.

The new Center for Functional Fabrics includes the Pennsylvania Fabric Discovery Center (PA FDC), which was created to support Drexel University's role as the regional leader of non-profit Advanced Functional Fabrics of America's (AFFOA) network of fabric discovery centres, which were launched three years ago. The PA FDC works with government, companies and entrepreneurs to take advanced-textile ideas from concept to prototype to scalable products. 

"This is a place to engage, collaborate and lead innovation in the field of advanced manufacturing of functional fabrics," says Drexel University president John Fry. 

During an opening tour earlier this week, attendees were shown around the manufacturing space, which features an equipment room outfitted for flat and circular weft knitting, warp knitting, weaving and yarn customisation. The centre also includes areas for digital design and programming, systems integration and assembly, yarn and textile testing, finishing, dyeing, and climate-controlled archival storage. 

Staff and student workers demonstrated select uses of the technology, including two computer games and one musical keyboard controlled by gesture sensitive functional textile touchpads, all of which were created through student projects.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said these and the many other uses for functional fabrics are being explored, including a smart fabric bellyband that monitors contractions and breathing in pregnant mothers, and fabrics being developed to protect, monitor and communicate with soldiers and other emergency personnel.

He added: "Advanced textiles will change the way we create clothing, furniture and more, beyond the scope of what's already been done."

With the support of $1.5m from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Drexel has also expanded its state-of-the-art prototyping facility, which now includes seven Shima Seiki flat weft-bed knitting machines, two circular weft-bed knitting machines, a Comez warp knitting machine, a CCI Tech weaving suite, and a variety of yarn-twisting machines. The centre also has a number of advanced design and production capabilities, such as a 3D body scanner, an ultrasonic sewing machine, a seam sealer, textile testing machines and advanced sewing machines.

Genevieve Dion, director of the Center for Functional Fabrics and the PA Fabric Discovery Center and professor of design in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, added: "We can create these amazing new textile devices, but how are we going to make sure that they're not gadgets? How are we going to make sure that they have meaning and truly improve lives?

"To accomplish that, it doesn't just take one person. It takes an enormous community and a team from so many different disciplines. That's the thing that's been really wonderful about the support at Drexel, to be able to demonstrate that trans-disciplinary work really shows the path to innovation."