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Additive Manufacturing in Bicycle Helmet Design

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In 2018, 854 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles, which is a 7% increase from 2017. Safety is a major concern for anyone riding a bicycle, as crashing is always a possibility. When riding a bike, safety is primarily determined by the use of a helmet to protect from head injury and a helmet is the most important preventive measure for preventing and mitigating head injury during a crash. With new advancements in manufacturing, our team's goal is to explore how 3D printing methods might provide better options for safety. 

Traditionally, bicycle helmets have been made out of foam based materials, specifically Expanded Polystyrene, using injection molding. Traditional manufacturing methods are slow and costly for iterating designs in product development. Exploration in additive manufacturing or 3D printing could be a worthwhile exploration to accelerate both the design and manufacturing process. Specifically, we are exploring how 3D printing methods might provide better options for reducing peak linear acceleration during an impact. In practice, this means designing complex lattices or mesostructures. Then using the additive manufacturing process Powder Bed Fusion, printing with nylon based materials to create additively manufactured thermoplastic lattice structures. 

At Virginia Tech this means working in collaboration with the Mechanical Engineering Department’s DREAMS Lab to print the structures. It also involves collaborating with the Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics Department’s Helmet Testing Lab, measuring resulting peak linear acceleration from the designed test coupons. It’s anticipated that these explorations will allow us to create different helmets for various head shapes, as well as reduce peak linear acceleration to the rider.

The project team includes no shortage of all-stars starting with our faculty members, Principal Investigator and Associate ICAT Director, Dr. Tom Martin and Faculty Advisor Prof. Andy Schaudt Program Director of Automated Vehicle Systems at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. In addition, it includes our hard working graduate student members, Dr. Emily Kieffer of the Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics Department, Dominic LoPinto of the Mechanical Engineering Department and Will Makowski a Human Centered Design Affiliate