New Life-Saving Helmet

10 August 2003

A new helmet, which simulates the action of the scalp on the skull in deflecting tangential force, has been developed with the support of Brookhouse Composites

The helmet is the brainchild of Dr Ken Phillips, a former GP, who began development of the concept some nine years ago. Essentially, it consists of a lightweight shell over which a membrane can move in the event of oblique force acting on it. A lubricant is introduced between shell and membrane to reduce friction and the shell is fitted with a liner.

The project management of the design and manufacture of a prototype helmet has been carried out by the Industrial Design Consultancy (IDC), of Datchet, following successful finite element analysis carried out by the Transport Research Laboratories (TRL).

The first stage of the design project was to select the materials for the constituent parts of the new helmet. Flat samples of potential shell materials were evaluated on rigs at the TRL and the two materials which provided the best results were chosen for development into full geometry helmets. IDC contacted SP Systems of the Isle of Wight, providers of composite pre-preg materials, and they suggested Brookhouse as a company with the required expertise and experience to carry out the moulding of the helmets to the accuracy and degree of reproducibility required.

Consequently, IDC produced 3-D models of the helmets and these were sent to Brookhouse. Five full scale helmet shells, one made entirely of carbon fibre and the others made of various combinations of carbon fibre and Kevlar, were made by Brookhouse autoclaves and supplied to the TRL for further testing.

These tests established which helmet provided the best linear impact performance compared with an existing commercial helmet, while retaining a relatively undamaged outer surface. This was very important as any damage resulting in exposed fibres would affect the correct functioning of the sliding membrane.

IDC then asked Brookhouse to provide a further five helmet shells to exactly the same specification as the best performer from the first batch and these were fitted with the best solution membrane system, which had been identified from other tests carried out at TRL.

The five complete helmets, comprising membrane, shell and expanded polystyrene liner were then subjected to final evaluation tests, first using a rigid metal headform and then using a hybrid headform which has a flesh-like skin and contoured features. These showed that the new helmet reduced the coefficient of friction by around 60% compared with conventional helmets, so reducing the effects of rotational forces in a collision, while offering equal protection to linear forces and weighed roughly the same as conventional helmets. Moreover, a helmet has been developed with the potential to save thousands of lives each year.

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