In the world of professional football, player safety is of utmost importance. With a growing concern about head injuries and the long-term effects they can have on athletes, leading helmet manufacturer VICIS set out to create an improved football helmet that would reduce impact force during head collisions.
To make this possible, the team at VICIS turned to SyBridge and Carbon in order to design and manufacture protective helmet pads, leveraging the digitization and customization expertise of Toolkit3D to achieve a custom fit for each player’s unique head shape.
REPLACING FOAM AROUND THE DOME
With traditional football helmets, including many of those used by professional and D1 athletes, foam is used as the primary material for padding and impact absorption. However, there are several key issues with foam pads that prevent them from being ideal for this application.
- Offer little ability to fine-tune for specific impacts, limiting performance and safety
- Lack durability and require frequent reconditioning
- Cannot be customized without machining or other labor or material-intensive processes
- Trap heat and moisture
Recognizing the limitations of traditional foam pads, VICIS aimed to create helmet pads that not only remain structurally intact over time but also prioritize player comfort and offer unparalleled safety against head impacts. This required an innovative manufacturing approach, along with expertise in material science and engineering, leading VICIS to the advanced manufacturing experts at SyBridge and Carbon, and the sports body equipment customization specialists at Toolkit3D.
About EPU 45
EPU 45 is a new energy-damping elastomer developed by the material science engineers at Carbon. It prints four times faster than traditional elastomeric polyurethanes and is a strain-rate sensitive material that stiffens to absorb energy at higher impact rates, enabling the design of highly breathable lattice structures tuned for comfort at low-impact speeds and energy absorption at high-impact speeds.
Advantages of Lattice Structures
In addition to enhanced breathability, the lattice structures of the 3D printed helmet pads allow for optimal energy distribution upon impact. Combining this structural design with the unique properties of EPU 45 makes these advanced helmet pads a superior alternative to foam padding traditionally used in football helmets, as they offer greater durability with superior impact absorption.
CRAFTING A NEW PLAYBOOK FOR IMPROVED CRANIAL PROTECTION
Working closely with the designers and materials scientists at Carbon and manufacturing engineers at SyBridge, VICIS determined that Digital Light Synthesis™ (DLS) was the right technology to manufacture these advanced helmet pads due to material compatibility and a focus on customization. With a lattice-structure design consisting of the new EPU 45 material, the 3D printed helmet pads would offer an ideal combination of enhanced protection and greater durability.
To create a truly custom fit for each player, VICIS leaned on the expertise of Toolkit3D, specialists in digitizing and automating the customization of high-performance medical and sports body equipment, to create a digital model of each player’s unique head shape. Then, collaborating with the engineers at SyBridge and Carbon, VICIS was able to optimize each pad’s design for manufacturability and cost-effectively 3D print the custom elastomeric helmet padding.
For additional customization and traceability, each pad is printed with the player’s name, pad set, print date and serialization, ensuring that players use the correct pads for their specific cranial geometries.
In the event a replacement pad is needed, utilizing the design flexibility that 3D printing provides combined with the on-demand digital manufacturing capabilities of SyBridge’s Fast Radius Portal, players can receive new pads that match their original head scans in as fast as 2 days, ideal for reconditioning equipment during bye weeks.
LEADING THE LEAGUE IN HELMET SAFETY
The agility of digital manufacturing and the rapid production times that 3D printing offers have allowed VICIS to manufacture these new pads for their Zero2 Matrix helmets with mass customization in mind. When it comes to comfort, one size doesn’t fit all, and sacrificing safety for an improved fit should never be a consideration.
Worn by some of the world’s best football players, VICIS helmets featuring these individually-customized 3D printed pads are now the top rated helmets for safety according to the NFL and NFLPA.*
With these helmets, players get enhanced safety without the impediment of additional size or weight, and a truly customized fit for improved security and performance.
*Data and rankings as of April 2023
The NFL in collaboration with the NFLPA, through their respective appointed biomechanical experts, annually coordinate extensive laboratory research to evaluate which helmets best reduce head impact severity. The results of those tests, which are supported by on-field performance, are set forth on this poster.
The helmet models are listed in order of their performance, with a shorter bar representing better performance. The rankings are based exclusively on the ability of the helmet to reduce head impact severity measures in laboratory testing. Performance variation related to helmet fit, retention, temperature-dependence, and long-term durability are not addressed in these rankings.
All helmets in green are recommended for use by NFL players. Based on a statistical grouping analysis, helmets in the Top-Performing group have been further distinguished into two green categories. The darker green group represents those that performed similarly to this year’s top-ranked helmets, while the light green group performed similarly to the lowest ranked dark green helmet. Helmets with poorer laboratory performance were placed in the yellow or prohibited groups. Yellow and newly prohibited red helmets are not permitted for new players and players who did not wear them during the 2022 NFL season. Newly prohibited helmets will be prohibited for all players in 2024.
The laboratory test conditions were intended to represent potentially concussive head impacts in the NFL. The results of this study should not be extrapolated to collegiate, high school, or youth football.