High-Tech Football Helmets Tackle Player Safety Head On
Football season has returned for the 32 NFL teams, hundreds of NCAA college football programs, and thousands of high school teams.
Mixed with the excitement and optimism of a new season, the dialogue over player safety will also continue, especially the topic of football-related head and brain injuries, which have generated lots of headlines and caused perhaps the greatest concern. More than 40 percent of retired NFL players have shown signs of traumatic brain injury, according to the American Academy of Neurology.
Along these lines, several companies and research entities are working to create improved protective gear, including more technologically advanced football helmets, which are designed to reduce the risk of head injuries.
Seattle-based VICIS is one of those companies, producing high-tech helmets used in the NFL, NCAA, high school, and youth football. Named by Inc. Magazine as one of the eight most innovative startups of 2017, VICIS used Protolabs’ injection molding services to help bring these new helmets to market.
We worked with VICIS to develop and manufacture snap posts that secure the comfort liner for its ZERO1 football helmet. Jason Neubauer, vice president of research and development at the company explained that the ZERO1 helmet ranked number one in testing with the NFL and NFL Players Association in 2018 for the second consecutive year. The helmet is currently used by nearly 200 NFL players and 120 NCAA football programs, and worn by players at more than 1,000 high schools.
According to Geekwire, the $950 ZERO1 helmet is engineered with multiple, specialized layers designed to mitigate impacts that are believed to cause concussions. Beyond football, VICIS plans to develop improved helmet technology for the U.S. military and for other sports and categories.
We recently talked with Neubauer about his company’s work with Protolabs, and VICIS’ future plans.
Tell us about ZERO1’s functionality and features.
The attachment system for ZERO1’s comfort liner must be simple to use and very secure. We were able to find the perfect snap post design with the help of Protolabs and its injection molding technology…Once we chose the correct size and material for the snap post, we had to alter its engagement angle to allow ease of alignment and attachment. Protolabs made this change quickly on multiple cavities. The part was reshot with very fast turnaround.
So, speed was crucial in your product’s development?
Yes! It was very important to deliver our helmets on time for the football season last year, which was our first on the field. It was very helpful to work with a company like Protolabs that could create and test multiple options for us very quickly…all parts were received on time and all parts functioned as expected.
In fact we have developed a number of injection-molded plastic parts with Protolabs. You’ve provided VICIS with lightning fast turnaround, allowing us to develop products faster and bring new solutions to athletes playing football and other sports.
Sounds like you’ve used both molded prototypes and production parts?
Yes, VICIS has developed more than 10 unique parts at Protolabs. Some of these parts continue to be manufactured at the Protolabs facility…without help from vendor partners such as Protolabs, VICIS would not have been able to complete our breakthrough ZERO1 football helmet, which is now protecting athletes at over 1,100 schools across the country.
What about future product development plans?
For now, we are making helmets for football, and working on the next generation of helmet technologies for football and other sports…but we are also working to bring this technology to the military…Our partnership with Protolabs is critical to this future work, allowing us to develop new products quickly and effectively.