3D-Printed Football Helmets, Other Gear May Offer Better Defense against Injuries

Posted On September 1, 2017 By Angelo Gentile
3D-printed part with SLArmor
Riddell and other companies are using 3D printing technology to develop better football helmets that help prevent head injuries. Photo Courtesy: Riddell

Our search for innovation this month takes us to the football field, where NFL teams will gather later in July for training camps in preparation for another season.

While fans get fired up to watch their favorite teams and players, several companies and research entities are applying 3D printing technologies to develop products designed to reduce the number and severity of injuries to those players.

As 3Dprint.com recently reported on this topic, football can be a dangerous sport and “protective gear can only do so much.” Specifically, football-related head and brain injuries are generating lots of headlines and causing perhaps the greatest concern. More than 40 percent of retired NFL players showed signs of traumatic brain injury, according to the American Academy of Neurology.

Along these lines, companies and researchers are using 3D printing technologies to develop better football helmets. Riddell is focusing on personalization for better protection. Hedgemon has turned to the hedgehog for inspiration in impact resistance. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Autodesk are redesigning helmets and other sports equipment to be smarter and safer, using complex micro-architectures.

The 3DP technology helps designers to create a helmet that can be perfectly shaped to an individual player’s head, and to prototype the complex microlattices or quill-like structures that are the basis for these advanced helmet designs.

Meanwhile, injuries to the foot, leg, ankle, or knee are also a focus of product development, including 3D-printed cleats, or at least partially 3D-printed ones. In this instance, too, personalization or customization is a key to product design that ultimately helps reduce injuries.

Beyond shoes and helmets, and beyond football, product designers are applying 3D printing tech to other equipment and other sports, such as 3D-printed mouthguards for fighters and shin guards for soccer players.

Eye on Innovation is our monthly look at new technology, products, scientific advancements, and trends.