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Alumni Spotlight: Scott Hilleary Manages Leading Manufacturing Company and Gives Back to the MABE Department

Scott Hilleary

Alumni Spotlight: Scott Hilleary (ME, 1985)


SSM Industries, Inc., manufactures fabric used in Aluminized Turnout Gear.


Hilleary’s flame-resistant fabrics provide protection in a wide variety of applications, including military apparel, firefighter protective gear, race car driver helmets, and children’s sleepwear.

After graduating from the University of Tennessee MABE department in 1985 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, Scott Hilleary began working at SSM Industries, Inc., a specialized textile manufacturing company established by his father, W. C. Hilleary, who is also a University of Tennessee graduate.  Hilleary began working in product development and eventually cycled through management of each area of the company. Hilleary stated, “In that time, I have developed products and processes including some machine customization, production and quality controls, and been granted two patents registered internationally.”

SSM Industries, Inc., located in Spring City, Tennessee, was established in 1982 with the vision to produce difficult to manufacture knitted fabrics required in apparel items used by the U.S. military for life and limb protection. “Today, our products are used in a wide range of protective apparel applications including, flyers gloves, survival vests, cold water flight suits, chemical defense flight suits, armor crew and combat gloves, white military dress uniform gloves, flight helmet liners, protective (both flame resistant and ballistic) underwear, fire fighters hoods and gloves, turnout gear, electrical and petrochemical work apparel, and automotive racing apparel,” Hilleary explained. The specialized fabrics manufactured at SSM are sold to clothing manufacturers that supply clothing to the U.S. military, fire services, electrical utility and gas/oil workers, and automotive racing drivers and crews. The success of the company and the demand for the items can be attributed to the unique features of the fabrics they produce. Hilleary stated, “Our products are engineered to include various functional properties from fire retardant chemistry applied to flammable materials like cotton, to anti-microbial finishes that kill odor-causing microbes, to moisture management finishes to make fabrics move moisture away from the skin and dry faster. We also create unique customized fabric constructions placing different fibers with special properties of strength or fire resistance or high visibility or moisture movement in the parts of the fabric where they can be most effective and efficiently used.”

In the future, SSM plans to grow and continue manufacturing items that meet the needs of their buyers. “As the economies of the world continue to develop and industrialize, the demand for life and limb protective clothing will likewise develop. It is SSM’s intention to contribute to the expansion of the use of these products and to continue to develop new levels of protection for all professionals for whom risk of life and limb is a daily part of the job,” Hilleary stated.

Hilleary is progressive with regard to the incorporation of new technologies and ideas into his business operations.  In this regard, he visited MABE last summer to discuss and evaluate robotics research activities in the department.  He and his staff met with Professor Bill Hamel to discuss what potentials robotics and automation technologies may have in future garment manufacturing operations.  As a result, they are in the process of establishing a research project to study automation opportunities in great depth over the next few years.  Hamel commented that “This project is going to be an important opportunity for MABE graduate students to gain very practical experience in one of the most complex and important areas of manufacturing automation that we face today.”

In addition, Hilleary was recently approached with the opportunity to support the expansion and enhancement of the MABE robotics and automation teaching and research facilities at University of Tennessee.  He jumped at the opportunity to give back to the department and made a $50,000 donation to support our robotics and automation facilities and equipment. Hilleary explained his decision to make the donation, “As most will recognize, the textile industry has low-cost labor competition around the globe. Automation technology is the reason the U.S. worker productivity is among the highest in the world, which is clearly important to our industry and others. This seemed like an especially appropriate venue to give back to the University and the next generation of engineers.”