Finite element analysis optimises helmet design to reduce brain injuries

Tom Austin-Morgan

'How do you construct a helmet to be safer?'
'How do you construct a helmet to be safer?'

In the drive to make helmets safer, MIPS has unveiled its own bespoke finite element analysis (FEA) tool.

With this, the company claims it can replicate and predict the response in helmet testing as well as in real-life impacts, more quickly and efficiently.

Max Strandwitz, CEO of MIPS, said: “You would never develop a car before you know that it’s safe. The car industry has spent a lot of time understanding how the deformation zone of a bonnet, for instance, should look. Our thinking is the same: how do you construct a helmet to be safer?”

Developing new helmets, be they for cyclists, skiers, ice hockey players, horse riders, the military or construction staff, is a demanding task with uncertainties. Multiple design iterations and lengthy testing procedures can make helmet manufacturing expensive and time consuming.

Rotational forces

To make sure that a helmet performs in accordance with the latest standards, such as the most recent ECE 22.06 for motorcycle helmets, which incorporates increased protection for rotational as well as linear motion, requires another level of development and testing. MIPS’ FEA method is said to help manufacturers to speed the development and testing processes, while also reducing costs.

Strandwitz explained the dangers of rotational forces resulting from angled impacts, which occur far more often than linear impacts: “If you hit the ground with an angled impact a tangential force is introduced. Your brain floats in the cerebrospinal fluid. ‘Best’ case is that you get a concussion, worst case is that the axons and the nerve endings get strained or break, which is normally irreparable.”

What the MIPS system allows is for helmet manufacturers to virtually test multiple designs to find the safest possible one before they begin the manufacturing process. This reduces costly tooling and retooling, trial and error, as well as cutting down on waste material from testing multiple physical prototypes. Further, they can simulate the damage an impact does to the human brain.

Model of the brain

“We can demonstrate, virtually, what happens inside the head,” explained Strandwitz. “We have the exclusive rights to the computer model of the human brain developed by KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, so we can simulate the brain damage these impacts can cause, which is fantastic in terms of the kind of capacity and capabilities you get.”

Because MIPS has been developing helmet designs with brands since 2002, the company has built up a comprehensive materials library, so can virtually test unlimited design possibilities. As helmets, especially motorcycle helmets, comprise up to five layers of different materials, this is another advantage of the Swedish company’s FEA tool, according to Strandwitz.

Harmful forces reduced

Another innovation that MIPS brings to helmet design is its Brain Protection System (BPS). This is a thin, low-friction layer of composite material that sits between the comfort padding and the EPS (high-quality foam used to reduce energy) layers. It reduces harmful forces that would otherwise be transmitted to the brain by allowing the helmet above it to move 10-15mm in any direction, independently of the wearer’s head. When this rotational force is redirected, the risk of strain to the brain tissue is reduced.

“It doesn’t mean that you won’t have a concussion, but we can at least reduce the risk,” said Strandwitz. “Getting the rotation of that piece right is difficult and that’s why no one else has done that before.” 

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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