Protective Helmets

How Xenith and BASF Forward AM Are Making Sports Safer

In football, hockey, baseball and many other sports, head trauma through collision is an ever-present risk for all athletes. Manufacturers of high-quality athletic equipment know it is critical that protective gear is designed with complete player safety as a top priority.

Project Breakdown

Consumer goods

Protective helmets

Road Protection | Sport Protection | Work Protection

Forward AM materials used
Ultrasim® | Ultrasint® TPU01 | Ultrasint® TPU 88A | Ultracur3D® Coat F+

Yes to sports – no to head trauma

Xenith was founded in 2006 by Vin Ferrara, a former Harvard quarterback and Columbia University MD. Located in Detroit, Michigan, the 66,000-square-foot headquarters and production facility houses an impact testing lab, custom paint booth, reconditioning operation, showroom and warehouse. Focusing on their philosophy that if a helmet does not excel under the most stringent testing available that it should not be on the field, Xenith has teamed up with BASF Forward AM to develop innovative technologies with cutting-edge materials to greatly improve the performance of helmets and other protective gear. This commitment to product excellence is crucial in preventing injuries and increasing safety for NFL athletes and players around the world.

Next level of head protection – Forward AM takes the lead

After spending three years on research and development, Xenith launched its first helmet in 2009. It was not only designed to meet and exceed safety regulations, but also to transcend protection by pushing the boundaries of fit, feel, comfort, durability, performance and style.

In collaboration with Forward AM, Xenith developed and tested intelligent impact absorbing lattice structures to engineer a high-performance helmet that would provide exceptional protection for both NFL athletes and players of every level with cushioning pads that are customized to the athlete for a perfect fit, ensuring player safety.

This was achieved using Ultrasim® by Forward AM, a unique Virtual Engineering design service for 3D printed components. This innovative software was used to accurately model shock absorption enabling the design adaptation of printed structures through precise simulation to achieve a specific force deflection response – in the case of helmets, optimized impact absorption. Through Ultrasim®, unique energy control cells were designed to cushion low-speed impacts and intelligently strengthen for high-speed impacts.

This technology can be applied to multiple applications in order to tailor the mechanical behavior of different lattice types and geometries to the application requirements. The key result being that all these structures are developed most efficiently and through virtual simulation, eliminating the need of testing hundreds of different geometries. Only the optimized lattice cell is then validated through real-life tests.

Protective helmets
Figure 1: Excellent shock absorption by a lattice structure printed with TPU powders from Forward AM

Perfect synergy of Ultrasint® TPU01, technology and design

Forward AM’s advanced engineering and design expertise helped Xenith to identify the optimum combination of materials, technology and processes that were both cost-effective and time efficient. Our Ultrasint® TPU01 high performance powder enables the industrial-scale 3D printing of flexible parts with class-leading shock absorption. It is ideally suited to manufacturing complex lattice structures with its high processing stability and accuracy. This makes the extremely detailed and intricate designs of the helmet’s interior structure possible because of the outstanding mechanical properties of TPU01.

Ultimate finish with Ultracur3D® Coat F - Flexible Coating

Forward AM has developed industry-leading finishing methods for parts 3D printed with our TPU powders. Through AMT post-processing solutions such as chemical smoothing or dyeing, an already high-quality surface can be modified to deliver the desired effect. Ultracur3D® Coat F – Flexible Coating enable an aesthetically enamel-like surface that not only ensures helmets will look great but will also provide functionalities such as moisture impermeability and resistance to dirt and oil.

Protective helmets
Figure 2: Major challenges in elastomer simulation.

Award winning design and continued technological advances

Protective helmets
Figure 3: Optimized AM structure designed with Ultrasim®

Using Additive Manufacturing, Xenith and Forward AM have created and implemented innovative technologies to distribute differentiated impact strategies intelligently throughout the helmet and to also provide an individualized helmet fit, resulting in significantly improved safety.

The NFL has placed the highest priority on player safety and is providing significant financial support to companies through the 2021 NFL Helmet Challenge, a $3 million competition aimed at improving helmet performance. After two years of innovation, 13 different “teams” submitted new helmet prototypes for laboratory testing and evaluation by a panel of judges, with Xenith being selected as one of the three finalists.

The only current football helmet manufacturer of the selected three finalists, Xenith was awarded $496,500 to take their innovative design and technology to the next level and onto the football field as soon as possible. Their collaborative prototype submission incorporated a compliant shell, 3D-printed lattice carrier, engineered RHEON energy control structures, for both geometry and material chemistry, and customizable Kinetix foam inserts for improved helmet performance and comfort.

Learn more about Xenith’s award-winning design here.

Protective helmets
Figure 4: Finite Element Model for mathematical optimization | Figure 5: The Tetrahedral Lattice structure as an example of many possible designs

The result: A major advance in helmet safety through optimized Additive Manufacturing design and smart material choice

At Forward AM we provide our customers with end-to-end solutions to enable them to shape the AM industrial revolution. Our market leading service spectrum includes:

  • Virtual Engineering design service
  • Rigorous in-house testing and analytics
  • Engineering-grade Additive Manufacturing materials
  • Expertise in the latest finishing solutions to complement our innovative materials.

“By bringing together experts from multiple disciplines, the NFL Helmet Challenge aims to encourage revolutionary advances in helmet design. The awardees demonstrated the potential to do just that. We’re very excited to support their efforts and test their prototypes next year. This is one more sign of the recent transformation in the protective equipment space – more in the last couple of years than over the previous decade – and we are committed to keeping this momentum going.”

– Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President of Communications, Public Affairs, and Policy

Learn more about the NFL’s commitment to this safety revolution driven by both data and innovation here.

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