The Power Suit: Not Just for Work


Did you know the integration of nanomaterials, manufacturing and garment fabrics is on the cusp of creating a whole new wearable “power suit” that can help monitor patients or generate energy — among countless other possibilities?

Four Manufacturing USA Institutes in collaboration with NIST MEP Centers are playing a vital role in this industry and its affiliated supply chain by drawing on commercial and technical developments that can be rapidly applied in this new field.

As the development of nanomaterials continues at an accelerated pace, more applications are identified that involve the integration of high technology devices with centuries old products. One of these applications within the garment industry is a new trend known as Power Suits.

Energy Harvesting

Energy harvesting is the process by which energy is derived from external sources (e.g., solar power, thermal energy, wind energy, salinity gradients, and kinetic energy, also known as ambient energy), captured, and stored for small, wireless autonomous devices, like those used in wearable electronics and wireless sensor networks. At the micro- and milli-amp level, this practice continues to gain importance as devices are developed with very low power requirements. It is an area of interest to the garment sector specifically as it relates to transferring “movement” into energy.

The potential applications in this industry can be life-changing.

Detection of a fall of an elderly person, providing power for pacemakers or other implants, and embedding GPS devices into clothing for hikers or to locate disoriented Alzheimer’s patients are some of the possibilities1. The transference is based on two well-known phenomena: piezoelectric and triboelectric effects. Piezoelectric effects interconnect electric signals and mechanical force, while triboelectric effects involves collecting opposite charges on two dissimilar materials once materials come in contact with one another.

The Role of Manufacturing USA Institutes and MEP Centers

Power Suits and other technically advanced garments require commercial and technological developments of four highly integrated areas: flexible sensors, “smart” data utilization, power electronics and fabrics. These are among the technology focus areas of the following recently established Manufacturing USA Institutes:

PowerAmerica logoThe mission of PowerAmerica is to develop advanced manufacturing processes that will enable large-scale production of wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors, which allow electronic components to be smaller, faster and more efficient than semiconductors made from silicon.

NEXTFLEXNEXTFLEX logo is focused on developing a new era in flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) manufacturing by catalyzing the U.S. flexible hybrid electronics ecosystem to commercialize technology through investments in FHE materials scale-up, thinned device processing, device/sensor integrated printing and packaging, system design tools, and reliability testing and modeling.

Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing logoThe Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute brings together a consortium of nearly 200 partners from across academia, industry, and non-profits, from more than 30 states, to spur advances in smart sensors and digital process controls that can radically improve the efficiency of U.S. advanced manufacturing.

AFFOA logoA national non-profit backed by industry, academia, government, and venture capital, the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) Institute will accelerate widespread commercialization of highly functional fabrics. This includes recent breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing processes that will soon allow us to design and produce fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health and change color — the dawn of a “fabric revolution”.

A key element for implementation and adoption of these new technologies with manufacturers across the U.S. is the Embedding MEP in Manufacturing USA Institutes Pilot Projects that began in 2016. Some of the main objectives of the pilot are to:

  • increase small U.S. manufacturers’ awareness of Manufacturing USA Institute focus areas and resources;
  • ensure the involvement of small U.S. manufacturers in the processes and activities associated with informing and developing the research agendas of the Institutes;
  • increase small U.S. manufacturers’ participation in Manufacturing USA Institute research; and
  • ensure the transition of Institute research results to small U.S. manufacturers for implementation.

Just the Beginning

The development of power suits barely scratches the surface of the advancements that are possible with the integration of physical phenomena, nanomaterials and new technology adoption. Commercial production for state-of-the-art products, such as these, requires supply chains that integrate new technology developments and processes. Through the collaboration of Manufacturing USA Institutes and MEP centers, manufacturers will be able to access markets that may otherwise have been inaccessible, while bringing innovate new products to consumers.

If you are interested in learning more about these developments, please contact your local MEP Center or NIST MEP headquarters at 301-975-0413.

1. “Nanotechnology could bring us a whole new “power suit”, CEN.ACS.ORG, January 16, 2017, P15-17.

About Author

Beth, Tab and José are regional managers with NIST MEP overseeing the Northeast, Northwest and Southeast respectively. Doug is a Senior Industrial Specialist at NIST MEP.


  1. Jeff Charles Riviera on

    We must strategically look at Rural Areas implementing programs like the SBA 8(a) and Federal HUB Zone programs as well as WOSB and Beteran programs through the Small Business Administration.

    Strategically bringing the robotics industry to rural areas will not only assist in creating jobs utilizing local human capital but will place the small business in a position to sell services and goods to the United States Government as well as receive financial assistance through various goverment programs a win-win situation.

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  2. Pingback: Cover Story: Disruptive Opportunities « MPMA – Precision Manufacturing Journal

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