A Closer Look at the Textile Technology and Textile Engineering Programs
By Cameron Walker
Textile Technology (TT) and Textile Engineering (TE) alumni are entrepreneurs, engineers, consultants, lawyers, professors, researchers, writers, even doctors and dentists. They work in startups, at universities, in manufacturing facilities in North Carolina and across the country, in labs, at hospitals and in companies all over the world. They are creating new fibers for the sports performance and automotive industries, streamlining processes, ensuring the safe manufacture of medical products and managing global logistics. They are engineering the future — creating nano-composite materials for deep-space exploration and products to save and improve the quality of human lives, from enhanced mobility to biocompatible artificial organs.
Let’s take a closer look at these two programs, both housed in the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science (TECS) at the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State. What are they? How are they different? How do they overlap? What can graduates of either program do with their degrees?
“The Textile Engineering program at the Wilson College of Textiles is completely unique. It is a multidisciplinary engineering program where the problems that we solve all have a common theme: their solutions involve fibers, yarns and fabrics,” said Dr. Philip Bradford, Textile Engineering program director. “These materials touch every aspect of our lives and we are interested in developing the next generation of processes and products that will make us more comfortable and improve lives around the world.”
TE is the only ABET-accredited textile engineering program in the country. According to ABET, accreditation by the nonprofit, non-governmental agency is “proof that a collegiate program has met standards essential to produce graduates ready to enter the critical fields of STEM” careers. The voluntary peer-review process focuses on what students experience and learn in the program, including program curricula, faculty, facilities and institutional support.
“Textile engineering is a fundamental engineering program utilizing math and science to solve problems, so the curriculum is rigorous,” said Dr. Russell Gorga, TECS director of undergraduate programs and associate department head.
Students take a series of engineering calculus courses, differential equations, engineering physics classes, chemistry, thermodynamics, statics and a circuits class, plus polymer and fiber science, yarn and fabric formation, Lean Six Sigma, quality control and experiment design, as well as computer based modeling.
“Textile engineering spans from understanding fiber structure and the fibers that make it up to yarns, textile structure and beyond, including product development; we also teach project management and communication styles and many other skills,” said Dr. Melissa Pasquinelli, TECS associate department head and director of graduate programs. “In order to teach that multidisciplinary curriculum, our faculty are also multidisciplinary. We have people from all different types of backgrounds, including textiles. Some, like myself, are chemists; we have some from materials science, industrial and systems engineering, even aerospace engineering…It’s a unique place and a unique degree because of that comprehensive look at materials, understanding them from the molecular level all the way to product development.”
The textile engineering program is a joint program between the Wilson College of Textiles and the College of Engineering, and students benefit from the relationship.
“All the students in textile engineering have all the resources of the Wilson College of Textiles as well as the College of Engineering — software licenses, computer labs, the career fairs hosted by the College of Engineering and the Wilson College of Textiles,” said Gorga.
Textile engineering students choose one of three concentrations: product engineering, chemical processing and information systems design.
“While textiles seems like a very focused field to be an engineer in, the three concentrations allow students to develop even more of a specialty depending on their individual interests,” said Bradford.
This concentration centers on the design of new and innovative products and is the most flexible. Students take three electives within an area of interest such as sports textiles, in which they can learn how to design high-performance materials for athletes; biomedical materials, in which they can create antimicrobial textiles, resorbable sutures and more; and sustainability, in which they can engineer textile products that are environmentally friendly.
“The chemical processing concentration is well suited for students who are interested in the materials used to produce fibers and the multitude of finishes that are used to give our fabrics a range of advanced functions,” said Bradford. The concentration is linked with Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CHE) and students are able to receive a minor in CHE with one additional class.
Information Systems Design
“The information systems design concentration is designed to produce students who want to make better decisions more efficiently in order to save companies money, improve people’s lives, reduce cycle time as well as improve quality. Students take courses to learn to retrieve, analyze, and manipulate data as well as build computer information systems to accomplish these tasks,” said Dr. Jeffrey A Joines, TECS department head. “Data analytics is going to be the wave of the future and these students will be positioned well.”
Students who pursue this concentration accept positions at companies both inside and outside the textile complex, such as Gap, HanesBrands Inc., Patagonia, Google, SAS, Abercrombie & Fitch, Duke Health, BB&T, Lenovo, SAS, and more.
“All three concentrations can easily lend themselves to a minor,” said Gorga. “In product engineering, you can get the materials science and engineering minor; in information systems, you will receive the industrial and systems engineering minor; in chemical processing, you can pick up the chemical engineering minor with one additional course.”
Whichever concentration they choose, graduates will be in the vanguard of textile engineering, learning from the best in an ever-expanding field. All three concentrations produce engineers that can work in a variety of companies within the textile complex and beyond, owing to the marketable skill sets they acquire, including critical thinking, communication, team work, the Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology, and computer based modeling with Excel and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).
“Some of the most visible developments in textile engineering are new products that may change the way we live our lives,” said Bradford. “There are constantly ongoing advances in biomedical textile products, fiber reinforced structural composites, wearable electronics, protective textiles and a range of other products that have unique properties enabled by nanofibers and other nanotechnology based coatings.”
“In textile technology…we apply those things that textile engineers might develop or design,” said Dr. George Hodge, textile technology program director. “Textile technology students are a lot more familiar with all aspects of textiles, from yarn all the way through a finished product.”
Students prepare for more hands-on careers in the design, development and manufacture of products in the fields of aerospace, apparel, automotive, sports and medicine, among others.
“Textile technology is a more applied STEM discipline in terms of understanding how the different fabric architectures give particular properties, and the TT students are going to learn these structures on a deeper level than the TE students will,” said Gorga. Students are not required to study thermodynamics or statics or electrical engineering circuits — instead, they take individual classes in nonwovens, knitting, weaving, fibers and yarns.
The medical textiles concentration is the first — and only — medical textiles curriculum to be offered as part of a university bachelor’s degree program. This unique course of study prepares students to design, fabricate and evaluate cutting-edge medical textile products through coursework that includes cell biology, biomedical engineering, statistics, quality management and regulatory affairs.
Alumni have taken positions with biomedical device, medical textile, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies such as 3M, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, as well as government departments like the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
Technical textiles are textile products designed to perform specific functions and solve problems; think firefighter turnout suits, seatbelts, filters, airbags, bulletproof vests and parachutes. They are used in transportation, automobile engineering, storage, packaging, civil construction and geotechnical engineering.
Coursework covers product design principles, understanding of applications and the state of the art for these technologies, and students are encouraged to pursue internships, study abroad opportunities and undergraduate research. Alumni can become project managers, quality assurance managers, development technologists and technical marketing managers at companies in the vein of Lion, AAF Flanders, Mills Manufacturing and Safety Components.
A supply chain is every step along the way in making and distributing a product, from raw material to manufacture to delivery of finished product. The textile supply chain operations concentration trains students to identify, solve and prevent problems in a supply chain, including manufacturing, sourcing, transportation, logistics and retail operations.
Students learn about the evolving technologies that move materials and enable the flow of information, from automatically-guided vehicles and robots to barcodes, radio frequency identification, data mining and more. Graduates will take positions as buyers, inventory managers, logistics managers and worldwide procurement directors for a range of companies, from local manufacturers to the titans of the textile industry and beyond; think American & Efird, Ralph Lauren, H&M, and even Amazon.
The general curriculum track includes 18 hours of advised electives; this flexibility in coursework allows students to obtain an academic minor in any number of subjects, from forensics to sports science.
“It facilitates study abroad quite well, at schools like Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where our students can take courses that will count toward their textile degree,” said Hodge. “It also allows flexibility to students who are in research — and for those who want to go to graduate school, they might want to take some advanced math, advanced chemistry, advanced physics, and get that under their belt.”
Comparison: Textile Engineering and Textile Technology
“There is a lot of overlap between these two fields and quite often, teams with both these skill sets are needed within a company to most efficiently get new products to market,” said Bradford. “Textile technologists know the ins and outs of all the technology needed to produce a textile product with a defined structure. Textile engineers are often the ones that define that structure based on a list of performance requirements; [they] often draw on technical knowledge from mechanics, physics, materials science, chemistry and thermodynamics to develop new products and then can use statistical and analytical tools to optimize the manufacturing process.”
“The pilot facilities that we have in our college don’t exist at the same scale anywhere else in the world,” said Bradford. “The fact that our course labs and senior design teams can utilize almost any type of equipment that they want is an invaluable learning tool and helps to better prepare them for industry.”
Both TE and TT students have access to these state-of-the-industry fabrication and testing laboratories and equipment.
“People don’t realize we have a complete textile manufacturing plant in our basement,” said Hodge. “And these are full-scale pieces of equipment. We can go from a bale of fiber to a finished product. We have a complete spinning plant downstairs, we have a complete knitting lab, a complete woven fabric facility, a complete dye house.”
In the fall of their senior year, TT and TE students come together to complete a two-semester senior design project. Interdisciplinary teams of students work to create solutions for real problems posed by companies and government-sponsored agencies.
“We map students to projects based on their interests and their skills leadership inventory,” said Gorga, who co-directs senior design with TECS associate professor Dr. Jesse Jur. “An industry contact, which we call the sponsor, interacts with the team to help them answer questions and solve problems and give them the guidance and support they need for the project.”
Past projects include turning fiber waste from down insulation into usable insulation batting, an antimicrobial textile product that has since been commercialized, a bite sleeve that students have patented in conjunction with the U.S. Army, and a sock manufacturing process that a team optimized to save the company time and money without adding any additional equipment.
“My favorite projects are the challenging ones, where people thought there was really no good solution, but the team comes up with a way to handle it…those are super satisfying because I know the students really value seeing their hard work has gone into making a difference for these companies or agencies,” said Gorga. “I say to people that they come in August as students and they leave in May as professionals. It’s hard work!”
Students gain real-world experience solving problems as part of an interdisciplinary team, and expand their worldviews at the same time.
“Students need to address problems from a technology and engineering standpoint, but they also need to do it from a costing and a business standpoint, and think about sustainability in the supply chain,” said Hodge. “When they come up with a solution, they need to think about the impact it has. The teams are also good opportunities for practicing their presentation skills.”
After the Degree
The TT and TE programs prepare students for success, with placement percentages for jobs and graduate or professional schools in the high 90s for both majors.
“Are our students marketable in the industry? The answer is yes,” said Gorga. “We train people to hit the ground running in industry or make them competitive for graduate school or other professional schools…We make them work hard. We train them well. They are ready to perform in industry or in graduate school, and I’m really proud of that.”
Learn more about our TT and TE alumni:
Read a few quick facts about the TECS program.
Check out the Centers and Institutes within the Wilson College of Textiles.
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