Welcome to Riding Nerdy, TNW’s fortnightly dive into bicycle-essentially based tech, where we go into an excessive amount of part and geek out on all issues linked to pedal-powered objects.
Cycling is unhealthy. In Britain extra than One hundred cyclists are killed and additional than Three,000 are severely injured every 365 days. Reducing these numbers will not be any diminutive job.
However one courageous startup from Britain, backed by ex-first-rate and Australian national road biking champion Simon Gerrans, thinks it could in point of fact manufacture biking safer with its 3D-printed fully-custom bicycle helmet.
Earlier this 365 days, I obtained to inquire of how the firm — called HEXR — used to be manufacturing its first production flee ready for shipping. I even obtained hands-on with the product, and toured the production facility to inquire of how HEXR is the utilization of 3D printing to carry its product to existence.
Gadgets: Tackling helmets head on
Whether or no longer or no longer carrying a helmet makes biking safer is a hotly debated and divisive topic. However logic suggests, must gentle you tumble off your bike and hit your head on something – like the road – it’s potentially only to be carrying one.
Selecting which helmet is gorgeous as divisive. While you happen to’re no longer a “bikie,” you received’t know there’s hands flee in the biking change to manufacture the realm’s “safest” bike helmet.
American biking tools producer Bontrager currently launched its WaveCel line of helmets, which it claimed vastly reduced height impact and rotational forces typically skilled in bike accidents. The company said its WaveCel helmets had been 48 times extra advantageous at preventing concussions than extinct foam-essentially based lids.
No longer all and sundry is of the same opinion, despite the indisputable fact that.
The group of scientists that developed a competing technology, identified as Multi Impression Security Gadget (MIPS), dispute the claims. MIPS engineers learned Bontrager’s WaveCel, which is stale in a range of bike, ski, and bike helmets, to assemble “a long way below the broadcast claims.”
Whereas those corporations battle it out, HEXR — the brainchild of ex-Cambridge rower and affords scientist Jamie Cook dinner — has entered the ring. And initial assessments counsel its 3D-printed bike helmet will most certainly be a force to be reckoned with.
MIPS and WaveCel are effectively “liners” that create a protective interface between foam outershell and the wearer’s cranium. They’re designed to soak up rotational forces and oblique impacts better than outdated model un-lined helmets. Whereas these are a step in the ultimate path, HEXR gentle believes the change is lacking the level and coming at the protection effort from the inappropriate attitude.
The firm says that expanded polystyrene or EPS foam, (the stuff that’s most incessantly retaining your flatpack furnishings) is much from the sole field cloth to manufacture a helmet with, however it with out a doubt’s gentle basically the most regularly stale.
Foam absorbs impacts only when forces are head-on, in opposition to flat surfaces. If fact be told, bike crashes hang twists, slides, and rotational impacts from assorted directions, and your head, whenever you hadn’t noticed, isn’t flat.
What’s extra, EPS foam is gruesome for the atmosphere. It doesn’t biodegrade, is made the utilization of vulgar oil, and is wasteful to manufacture. “It’s 2019, we can carry out better with our manufacturing processes,” Cook dinner suggested me as we toured HEXR’s production facility.
By leveraging 3D printing, HEXR thinks it could in point of fact manufacture an even bigger product both for riders and the atmosphere.
Gadgets: Trend, originate, and field cloth
HEXR used to be born throughout Cook dinner’s university compare that explored the effectiveness of pretty quite a lot of constructions and affords for though-provoking impacts spherical spherical objects. His compare started in 2013 at College College London, and in 2015, persisted as portion of a grasp’s at Oxford College.
“Innovation is constantly messy,” Cook dinner suggested me.
In general dismayed with basically the most new suppose of the bike helmet change, Cook dinner made up our minds to buy motion and gain a technique to manufacture an even bigger helmet.
“[For] all of those foam helmets, production hasn’t changed in years. While you happen to go into a retail retailer they’re all pegged up and no one with out a doubt is conscious of if one’s safer, or suits better. It’s extra or less complicated,” Cook dinner added.
After five years of compare, Cook dinner learned that hexagonal cells performed lots better below impact load than EPS foam when surrounding spherical objects, like your head.
Under excessive impact, foam hardens to the level it stops an impact and transmits forces throughout the sphere cloth, which isn’t precisely desireable for a helmet.
Hexagonal cells, on the assorted hand, buckle, bend, and deform to decelerate a payload in opposition to impact, reducing height impact forces.
Judge of it like a load of diminutive crumple zones, corresponding to you’d gain on a automobile, however in your head.
“[This helmet] is essentially based on a complete fresh location of fundamental science spherical head form… it’s basically the most important designed spherical energy though-provoking constructions,” Cook dinner added.
As a HEXR helmet experiences an impact, the contact situation will enhance all over extra “cells.” As extra cells are recruited, impact forces are reduced and energy is dissipated all over a increased situation. If fact be told, this implies forces are reduced, as a change of transferred throughout the medium — as EPS foam does — from the level of impact.
Hexagonal cells assemble abundant in the lab, however the ultimate effort Cook dinner says is manufacturing them and scaling production to be sustainable. Producing the intricate hexagonal constructions rapidly and tag-effectively will not be any longer easy.
Used plastic injection molding ways are up to the job Cook dinner said, however the difficulty here is tooling. Injection molding requires a mother or father mildew in which liquid plastic is forced to manufacture the form of the product.
Manufacturing a mildew for the complicated, intricate, and thin walls of HEXR’s hexagonal cells would no longer arrive low-tag or instant. You’d also occupy to outsource production to the a long way east, which comes with its hang cultural, logistical, and quality support watch over challenges. Yet again, no longer something that can happen overnight.
Within the case of helmets, producers also occupy to cater for a range of sizes to suit assorted head shapes, which might per chance maybe maybe require extra compare, time, tooling, and making an strive out to manufacture a workable product.
Tidy corporations like Under Armour, Adidas, and Asics repeatedly work with specialist clothing pattern corporations – like Alvanon – to manufacture basically the most appropriate match for particular apparel. As a diminutive startup, HEXR is taking a determined procedure; this ability that of it has 3D printing at its disposal.
Gadgets: Making the helmet
Across the time Cook dinner started developing the HEXR helmet, there used to be “large hype surrounding 3D printing,” he said.
“After I first started I was in fear of the technology. However 3D printing is extra or less an umbrella term, there are a complete bunch assorted ways in which tumble below this blanket.”
For the duration of HEXRs pattern, the firm examined assorted affords, manufacturing ways, cell sizes, and layouts, however it with out a doubt used to be constantly essentially based spherical 3D printing. It used to be continuous prototyping that allowed it to test the boundaries of the hexagonal cell. It simply wouldn’t were economically seemingly with outdated model manufacturing ways.
It’s with out a doubt pretty heavy-handed to seek advice from what HEXR does as 3D printing. Its valid term is additive manufacturing, and this is what has allowed HEXR to occupy an idea, manufacture it, and test it in the precise world within 24 hours. Within the change this is known as “at this time prototyping,” and it’s with out a doubt among the methodology’s ultimate boons to fledgling producers.
It methodology companies can strive out fresh tips at this time, ultimate folks who work, and push aside folks who don’t. On this planet of bike helmets, that occupy to endure rigorous security making an strive out, it lets producers at this time gain and hone the sole originate.
Interestingly, many corporations desire 3D printing for product pattern for this very motive, however will repeatedly steer again to extinct mass-manufacturing ways when it comes to endeavor the production flee.
“All the issues used to be 3D printed, from the starting,” Cook dinner said. Within the early days HEXR used to be location on embracing this fresh technology, however it with out a doubt didn’t arrive low-tag. Early prototypes of the helmet tag virtually £1,000 to manufacture.
Given it is miles a brand fresh process, HEXR had to figure out be taught how to aid out all the issues from the bottom up. No longer only did it occupy to originate the helmet, it had to work with producers to gain the sole procedure to manufacture it — to “print” it.
The 2 most needed system had been discovering the sole model of 3D printing and mistaken field cloth to make employ of.
Within the kill HEXR settled on a manufacture of additive manufacturing which involves the utilization of heat, lasers, and polymer powder to sinter collectively and effectively “print” the helmet. Turning a mass of powder into a single construction.
After a complete bunch of prototypes, and thousands of assessments (over Three,200 actually) HEXR learned that a formidable bioplastic polymer, called Polyamide Eleven, handles crash forces only and is easy to make employ of in additive manufacturing.
However how carry out you go from a bucket of Polyamide Eleven, a vivid powder in its raw suppose, to a formidable helmet match to aid your head helpful? That’s where additive manufacturing comes in.
The 3D printing machines HEXR uses are a a long way bawl from the family 3D printers it is seemingly you’ll maybe per chance additionally occupy seen already. Every machine is referring to the size of a large American-model fridge-freezer.
In actuality the helmets are produced through a process of sintering a plastic powder into a series of very namely formed layers that are built up over the path of about 24 hours.
Interior every machine sits a metal bucket, about two toes large, by one foot square. The metal buckets are house to a platform on to which the helmets are “printed.”
The platform in the bucket mates up to a hopper or “head” throughout the machine that strikes all over it every few seconds, depositing a one micron layer of the Polyamide-Eleven powder every time. It’s corresponding to the procedure a printer head strikes all over a little bit of paper.
After every cycle of the head, lasers plan what’s effectively a two-dimensional form on the powder. If fact be told, this form is with out a doubt among the three,000-plus layers of field cloth that will go on to manufacture the helmet. These lasers are infact sintering and melting the powder collectively into a with out a doubt particular form.
As the platform strikes down, extra powder is added, and the lasers proceed to sketch out the helmet’s layers essentially based on a computer-aided originate generated by HEXR.
The atmosphere throughout the machines is intentionally kept at a temperature beautiful about a levels below the melting level of the polymer powder, about 175C. Right here’s so the lasers sketching out the form of every layer, can push the powder beyind its melting level. When this happens, the powder melts collectively, cools, and kinds a formidable.
Alternatively, a complete bunch powder doesn’t with out a doubt go on to manufacture portion of the closing product. It sits in the printing bucket having no longer been sintered; however it with out a doubt gentle plays a with out a doubt important role in the helmet’s construction.
As the helmet is being printed, the redundant powder supports the helmet’s form till it’s sufficiently cooled and hardened.
Thanfully this additional powder isn’t wasted, despite the indisputable fact that, because it’s recycled and resused. Not like extinct manufacturing processes, 3D printing doesn’t generate much raze field cloth.
“There might per chance maybe per chance additionally very effectively be powder stale here that’s been in circulation in our printers for quite a lot of years,” Frederick Wray from 3T Additive Manufacturing (HEXR’s production facility) suggested me as I watched the sintering process.
The topic cloth does degrade quite over time, in the kill forming diminutive lumps, however these are constantly sifted out so only the beautiful polyamide is ready again into circulation, Wray added.
What’s extra, Polyamide Eleven is
Gadgets: The breakout
Maybe, basically the most attention-grabbing and thrilling portion of the production process, as a spectator at the least, is what Wray refers to as “the breakout.” Right here’s when the blocks of powder, and printed helmets, are eliminated from their metal buckets. No longer easy product is separated, in an archaeological dig-like model, from the free un-sintered powder.
It’s also basically the most important portion of the process which requires human intervention.
As soon as the extra powder is eliminated from the broadcast helmets, they’re cleaned, primed, painted, and carried out. This closing portion of production involves adding soft fabric pads throughout the helmet, straps, and a clip on vacuum formed aerodynamic plastic shell.
As it happens, all these assorted system are made or assembled in the UK too — no longer a long way from where the helmets are printed — additional retaining the overall carbon footprint of the product down. The helmet’s “aerodynamic-shell” is made and painted in Fareham, UK. Chin straps are assembled in the UK, as are the helmet’s ratchet and buckles.
All these system will most certainly be changed individually too, so if a buckle or a strap breaks, HEXR can send you replacements, additional reducing pointless raze.
HEXR can manufacture about six helmets in a single machine, the firm’s UK facility has about eight machines working all around the clock.
However it must be well-known, unlike mainstream brands, which can occupy production runs of a complete bunch, if no longer thousands of gadgets at a time, HEXR makes only what needs to be made. Correct one custom helmet for every particular person customer.
Without 3D printing, HEXR would occupy taken many extra years to achieve the market. It potentially would occupy arrive at a a long way increased environmental tag too. However the benefits of additive manufacturing don’t live here.
Certainly among the ultimate challenges with making helmets – or any clothing for that topic – is sizing. Normally producers will manufacture a different of pretty quite a lot of sized helmets that match a range of head sizes with ratchets and tightening mechanisms to produce some tolerance for assorted headshapes.
HEXR takes profit of the company’s 3D printing manufacturing process to manufacture every single helmet namely for every customer’s head form.
Gadgets: Going fully custom
Sooner than getting a HEXR helmet, every customer must don a swimming cap model hat and occupy their head scanned. Interestingly, the technology stale to contact the scan is moderately flee of the mill; it’s an iPad and some depth sensing cameras. These cameras are becoming an increasing number of customary in mainstream smartphones. HEXR expects in dispute to let potentialities scan their hang heads with their hang telephones soon.
“Most new smartphones occupy the capability to total a head scan to the customary we need,” Cook dinner tells me as he circles my head, scanning it as he goes.
Alongside its additive manufacturing process, the headscan is a with out a doubt important part to HEXR’s manufacturing process, Cook dinner says. It collects 30,000 info aspects which will most certainly be stale to reconstruct a digital mannequin of the client’s head which is then stale to compute a personalised CAD blueprint for a helmet.
HEXR holds on to those measurements so it could in point of fact reprint extra helmets whenever it is advisable to decide any other or change one in the case of a crash.
One more function of the head scan program that builds this digital mannequin is to gain the top seemingly procedure of printing as many helmets as that you just would take into accout in a single AM machine at a time. This system takes all on hand orders attributable to be printed, and finds the top seemingly procedure of positioning them in the machine to print as many, in as exiguous time as that you just would take into accout.
Gadgets: Security first
I with out a doubt occupy to quiz, is HEXR’s radical procedure to manufacture and originate price it? In assorted phrases, is HEXR’s employ of 3D printing with out a doubt making a safer helmet? Customized is one factor, however it with out a doubt’s obtained to assemble. Despite all the issues, a helmet’s foremost function is to present protection to your head. So does it?
The short resolution? Sure.
Preliminary 0.33-occasion assessments prove HEXR’s designs are beating out the competition, and are doing it with aplomb. And these aren’t self-made assessments designed to manufacture the helmet see better, these are change customary assessments, done by the British Security Institute (BSI) that every helmets offered in the UK must wade through.
HEXR’s 3D printed helmet doesn’t beautiful fulfill the minimal (EN 1078) requirements of those assessments, it a long way surpasses them.
The BSI assessments helmet