Few designs are off the table once new materials and new methods are available for design and manufacture. That’s why Michael Princip took on the challenge of designing a better football helmet.
“I think I can do it better,” is a key motivator for a good designer. It certainly was for Michael Princip, a designer in North Carolina, and his ideas for a better football helmet. In addition to creating a helmet that looked good, he felt he could create a stronger and more versatile helmet than what was presently on the market. He wanted a design that not only looked good, but was also made well, something that offered the highest level of protection he could provide.
Princip worked closely with research facilities and universities during the design process to use the latest information available. He also decided to research and select the most modern materials on the market. The challenge came in creating the prototype for his new helmet. He wanted to illustrate how the helmet worked without giving away the method used to put all the pieces together.
The helmet is basically made with four individual layers that include an inner padding layer; an inner shell of hard material similar to a skateboard helmet; a second, outer padding layer; and a final tough shell of material over that layer of padding. By incorporating segmented shells in his design, Princip created a helmet that could handle very high impact energies that even reached the inner shell segments. This material layering provides excellent protection from head injuries, a major cause of serious injury on the field. “Actually, impact energy is dissipated before it even reaches the inner shell, all due to the special design of the segmented pads,” Princip said.
But impact energy strength isn’t the only thing the helmet provides. Because he was inspired by modern day rugby, skateboard, and ski helmets, there is a greater amount of airflow through the helmet itself. “The increased air circulation comes from the segmented panels and seam lines,” said Princip. Thus, the wearer has a better chance of taking a high impact hit without it causing a concussion. If a player’s body temperature is high they are more susceptible to a concussion than if their body temperature is normal. The additional air circulation of the helmet protects the head while keeping it cool.
The entire prototype was created out of pieces of existing helmets from Princip’s collection along with fifteen individual components produced by Solid Concepts Inc. (Valencia, Calif.). He uploaded his design files, and had several helmets made of different colors so that he could illustrate how easy it was to customize the helmet using his design. “I designed the helmet so that it would be a simple task to swap out segments for different team colors, or helmet designs.”
- A variety of materials were chosen for the prototype. A 12PA nylon, or other nylon composite, simulated the polycarbonate shells. The parts were created by Solid Concepts on one of its stereolithography machines. The facemask was produced using a nylon/aluminum composite. The forehead and rear pads also used different materials than the rest of the helmet.
Once the components were manufactured by Solid Concepts and delivered, Princip used a number of methods to connect the parts. Similar to how helmets are held together now, he used a combination of t-nuts, screws, and velcro. The next helmets he is making will look slightly different from the original prototypes, and will feature the padding and fastening system that was chosen for the wearable and testable version.
“I uploaded the parts through the company’s internet site one day and received them a few weeks later,” noted Princip, “plenty of time to finish the project and start meetings with potential buyers.” All in all, Princip was able to get everything he needed from Solid Concepts in a timely manner and for a good price.
Bulwark Helmet-Tek, LLC
Solid Concepts Inc.