Design Knowledge Intermediary
Super Bowl Special: 3D Printing Football Helmets to Improve Safety

 Super Bowl 51 is just around the corner, and research about preventing concussions and improving helmets is back in the news.

At the point of impact, helmets undergo great stress and large deformations during a very short amount of time. Understanding a helmet’s behavior is critical to designing a safe helmet; however, it involves extremely time consuming and cost prohibitive research, including the creation of prototypes of helmets and investing significant resources in a slow-motion camera to record the behavior.
In today’s engineering world, there are tools to streamline the helmet research and design process.
To reduce the number of testing iterations, a simulation is conducted using finite element analysis (FEA) and by running a nonlinear dynamic analysis. The force, or impact load, is applied for a very small amount of time to simulate an external load like a ball, bullet, or another helmet hitting the helmet. By using impact load we can get a detailed understanding of how the helmet reacts in a very short duration of time just after impact. (Appropriate material selections are made and other restraints are defined to complete the setup of the analysis.)
The animation shown below represents a very small amount of time that has been slowed down so we can carefully analyze it. It shows the point of impact deforming a large amount due to the load and stresses that propagate to the rest of the helmet, like a wave causing deformations.