Converting Polymers to Protection
In our last post on using software to make a more protective helmet, we discussed how we engineered a lighter helmet that's more protective. The foundation for the best-performing hockey helmet is a combination of superior materials, software, and hardware. Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), with its energy-absorbing properties, is the raw material making up our helmets. Our software is literally the brain that runs the show taking all the customer measurements and personalization requests and translating that into work for the printers. KAV defined hardware fabricates the helmet. Today, let's explore the 3D printers we utilize to make a KAV Hockey Helmet.
We evaluated the pros and cons of the various additive manufacturing technologies. Our decision criteria were pretty simple:
- Design freedom. We wanted a technology that allowed us the flexibility to engineer the best helmet possible.
- Cost. We knew our helmets were going to cost more because of the R&D investments, superior materials, customization, and domestic production. Still, we didn't want them to be prohibitively expensive for anyone who put a priority on safety.
- Quality. People expect a helmet to look a particular way, not like something their kid cooked up for a school project. (No offense, kids.)
Stereolithography (SLA) and Digital Light Processing (DLP) printers, ostensibly the obvious choice, all use liquid resin. Because liquid resin needs a path to drain, these machines can't print fully enclosed structures. We took them off the list. Likewise, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Material Jetting (MJ) printers also need an exit path for the powders after printing. None of these four technologies supported the use of multiple materials in the same print.
In addition, these technology choices were generally prohibitively expensive. The high cost of the printers, the materials they used, and the labor to post-process the helmets would result in $1000+ helmets.
As you may have guessed, this left us with the humble Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) printers. Historically, the problem with FDM printers has been that their final finish lacks the polish of the other technologies, and watching them print is like watching grass grow. Four generations of printers later, KAV has created our slicing software, firmware, and hardware to make a much more comfortable and protective helmet available for under $500. KAV's cost-effective personalization platform crafts helmets with a smooth finish, durable construction, and improved protection. As for production time, we improved that too. Fabricating a customized American-made KAV helmet is way faster than having a helmet made in China and shipped to you!
Next post: Destroying helmets to save lives.