Clemson bioengineering, packaging science researchers working on safer helmets

University partnering with area manufactures in response to head trauma concerns in football

Innegra H yarns combine high-strength fibers, such as carbon fiber, with the toughness of Innegra S fibers to create hybrid yarns with unique characteristics. (Clemson University photo)

Innegra H yarns combine high-strength fibers, such as carbon fiber, with the toughness of Innegra S fibers to create hybrid yarns with unique characteristics. (Clemson University photo)

Growing concerns about brain trauma to football players have led to a new pact between Clemson University and two companies that could change the materials used to make helmets.

Bioengineering and packaging science researchers will work with Innegra Technologies of Greenville and B&W Fiber Glass of Shelby, N.C., to evaluate whether Innegra-based composites could provide superior head protection to athletes involved in contact sports.

The companies have developed “Innegra H yarns.” The yarns combine high-strength fibers, such as carbon fiber, with the toughness of Innegra S fibers to create hybrid yarns with unique characteristics.

“A majority of the improvements in head protection have focused on padding or adjustments to the shape of the helmet, but few, if any, changes have been made to the materials used in the shell of the helmet,” said John DesJardins, an assistant professor in bioengineering.

“This study could very well change the entire thought process involved with the design of high-impact head protection and the materials used to manufacture helmets.”

The Innegra H yarns have been shown to significantly increase the impact resistance of fiber-reinforced composites, resulting in safer and stronger composite structures.

Innegra-based composites are used in hockey sticks, whitewater kayaks and other high-impact applications.

“With the ongoing concerns of brain trauma in football, Innegra Technologies sought to collaborate with an educational institution with the resources to determine whether Innegra fibers can in fact provide better protection than what is on the market today,” said Jeff Ettin, vice president of business development for Innegra Technologies.

Innegra Technologies and B&W Fiber Glass see opportunities for the materials to be used in a range of areas in which safety is a concern, including sporting equipment and automobiles.

Testing at Clemson will be done by DesJardins and Gregory Batt, an instructor in the department of food, nutrition and packaging science.

They plan to evaluate and categorize a wide range of composite configurations based on Innegra fiber’s unique ability to absorb impact energy, reducing the chance of head injury.

The partnership between Clemson and the companies is expected to last into early 2015. Its goal is to provide the next generation of helmet materials to the sports industry.

Clemson and the companies came together after Innegra learned of Clemson’s work through news coverage of a high-impact helmet testing demonstration at Roper Mountain Science Center.

The demonstration highlighted the risk of concussions in contact sports by striking a dummy’s head with numerous objects, including weights, footballs, baseballs and helmets. That Creative Inquiry work is in its third year and is co-mentored by DesJardins, Delphine Dean and David Kwartowitz.

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