Cardiff Uni 3D-printed material backed by NFL to protect against brain injuries

Innovative 3D-printed material developed at Cardiff University to protect athletes, military personnel and the general public against brain injury has won funding in an NFL-backed competition.

World-leading, US-based helmet designer and manufacturer Roy Burek of Charles Owen Inc has secured $250,000 (£165,000) in the Head Health Challenge III, an innovation competition to advance work in high-tech materials, to develop the material created by researchers at Cardiff University.

The funding comes from the National Football League (NFL), Under Armour, GE and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to aid the development and deployment of advanced materials.

C3, as the material is being called, is layered and elastic and has been designed by Cardiff University in partnership with the University of Cambridge. It’s been designed using mathematical modelling and tested using state-of-the-art computers so it can be tailored for various impact scenarios.

The team will now be able to test a variety of designs before going on to use a 3D printer to build them, which is the most cost-effective and efficient method in comparison to other techniques. When it comes to using the printer, a polymer-based powder will be fused into a specific shape by a laser. This will solidify the material to form a strong, flexible structure.

Roy Burek, President & CEO of Charles Owen Inc, said: “My grandfather, Charles Owen, started making helmets to protect the British soldiers in 1911 before moving onto motorcycle helmets in 1925, and then equestrian helmets (particularly jockey helmets) in 1938.

“This long and illustrious record in manufacturing innovative products that increase head safety has kept the brand at the center of helmet development for over 100 years. It has only been in the past 15 years that our knowledge of how the brain is injured and how to best protect it has dramatically changed along with the design and manufacture of helmets.

“I am thrilled to be part of a project that pushes the development of totally new protective technologies and materials so that we can better prevent brain injuries in multiple areas.”

Dr Peter Theobald, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, said: “Head injury prevention strategies have remained relatively stagnant versus the evolution of other technologies.  Our trans-Atlantic collaboration with Charles Owen Inc. has enabled us to pool our highly relevant skills and expertise in injury prevention, mechanics, manufacturing and commercialisation.

“This approach has already enabled us to develop C3 which shows great promise to better absorb the vertical and horizontal components of an oblique impact.

“This highly prestigious award provides us with a platform to continue developing C3 towards our ultimate goal of achieving a material that provides a step-change in head health and protection, whilst achieving metrics that ensure commercial viability.”