Developing Computational Tools to Revitalize the U.S. Textile Manufacturing Workforce
Effective Years: 2021-2026
The loss of U.S. apparel production jobs overseas and a subsequent decline in manufacturing infrastructure after the 1980s was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when demand for domestically produced personal protective equipment could not be met. In order to address this deficit, the U.S. textile industry requires the physical and human resources to update, upskill, and accelerate manufacturing. At the core of this transformation are 2D/3D digital technologies, which enable instant product iterations and quickly move garments from development into production. Currently, digital competence is low for many in the U.S. textile manufacturing workforce, which has traditionally preferred manual techniques and questioned the accuracy of digital technologies, thus limiting rates of adoption. In education, there is a lack of knowledge about how to integrate 3D digital technologies into the curriculum, which has made it challenging to develop a tech-savvy future workforce and provide training to the existing workforce.
To address these gaps, the overarching goal of this CAREER project is to accelerate digitalization in manufacturing by: (1) creating a novel computational tool to replace in-person fit sessions during new product development, and facilitate rapid decision-making when using 2D/3D digital technologies, and (2) designing effective training modules for the current and future workforce to strengthen their core knowledge and growth. Tools and research findings from this project will advance scholarly knowledge and make a contribution across the fields such as textiles, learning sciences, computer science, and human-computer interaction. In addition, the methods proposed in this research will pave the way to create new jobs in U.S. manufacturing industries at the intersection of design, ergonomics, and technology, which will significantly benefit from the computational tool and cyber learning approaches developed in this project. A major educational component of the research focuses on leveraging the digital skills of the technologically savvy cohort, and includes organizing workshops for educators, designing curricular materials, providing research involvement and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students, and outreach to 4-H and K-12 students.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.