Michael Princip is a designer with a studio in North Carolina. Over the years, he has thought extensively about an idea he had for the design of a new football helmet. His concept, like most creative designers, was tied to his belief that he could create a stronger and more versatile design than what was presently on the market. Michael commented on his thinking by saying, “The externally padded helmet concepts that I had seen designs for didn’t go with what I thought they should be like. Basically, I thought I could do better.” The catalyst for his opinion was that he didn’t particularly like the aesthetics of what he’d seen in other designs. He wanted to design and build a football helmet that not only looked good, but was also made well, something that offered the highest level of protection he could provide.
Michael’s philosophy was to work closely with research facilities and universities during the process of design, so that he could use the latest information available. Second, he decided to research and select the most modern materials on the market for the manufacturing of the helmet. This way, he surmised that there would already be in place a positive forward momentum for changes and upgrades. The challenge for Michael came in creating the prototype for his new helmet. He wanted to be able to illustrate how the helmet worked without giving away the method with which he put all the pieces together.
The helmet is basically made with four individual layers, which includes an inner padding layer; an inner shell of hard material similar to a skateboard helmet; a second, outer padding layer; and a final tough shell of material over that layer of padding. By incorporating segmented shells in his design, Michael was able to create a helmet that could handle very high impact energies reaching the inner shell segments. This layering of materials provides the ultimate in protection from head injuries, a major cause of serious injury on the field. “Actually, impact energy is dissipated before it even reaches the inner shell, all due to the special design of the segmented pads,” Michael said.
But impact energy strength isn’t the only thing the helmet provides. Because Michael was inspired by modern day rugby, skateboard, and ski helmets, there is a greater amount of airflow through the helmet itself. “Again, the greater air circulation the helmet offers is due to the design of the segmented panels and seam lines, as well,” Michael explains.
What this means is that the wearer of the helmet has a better chance of taking a high impact hit without it causing a concussion. If a player’s body temperature is high they are more susceptible to a concussion than if their body temperature is normal. The additional air circulation of the helmet protects the head while keeping it cool.
The entire prototype was created out of pieces of existing helmets from Michael’s collection along with fifteen individual components produced by Solid Concepts Inc. (Valencia, CA). Michael uploaded his design files, and had several helmets made of different colors so that he could illustrate how easy it was to customize the helmet using his design. “I designed the helmet so that it would be a simple task to swap out segments for different team colors, or helmet designs,” he said.
A variety of materials were chosen for the prototype. Michael said that he used a 12PA nylon or other nylon composite to simulate the polycarbonate shells. The parts were created by Solid Concepts on one of their SLA (stereolithography) machines. The facemask was produced using a nylon/aluminum composite. The forehead and rear pads also used different materials than the rest of the helmet.
Once the components were manufactured by Solid Concepts and delivered to Michael, he used a number of methods to connect the parts. Similar to how helmets are held together now, Michael used a combination of t-nuts, screws, and velcro. The next helmets he is making will look only a slight bit different than the original prototypes, but will feature the padding and fastening system that was chosen for the wearable and testable version.
“Overall,” Michael said, “I uploaded the parts through the company’s internet site one day and received them a few weeks later, plenty of time to finish the project and start having meetings with potential buyers.” All in all, Michael was able to get everything he needed from Solid Concepts in a timely manner and for a good price. “Vendors like Solid Concepts make it easy for me to do my job,” he said.