Why NFL Players Are Wearing Custom 3D-Printed Helmets
NFL players on almost every team are testing out a brand new type of
helmet: one created with the help of 3D printing.
This is all about what’s under the shell.
It’s called the Riddell SpeedFlex Precision Diamond.
It’s all about advanced protection for the athlete, being able to dissipate
and absorb the energy on impact.
Silicon Valley-based Carbon prints customized resin pads to go inside each
player’s helmet, based on a scan of his head.
These are the pads from my scan that we printed individually and we’ll send
these over to Riddell and we’ll assemble that into a final helmet and I’ll
get a chance to bang heads with others on the team.
Soon foam could be a thing of the past, just like the soft leather helmets
first used by the sport nearly 100 years ago.
If this were foam you’d have to have different kinds of foam and you’d have
to put it together like a puzzle. It’s labor intensive and the energy
doesn’t couple well from one piece to the other. By having a combination
product this allows you to have better protection with properties that
differ in different regions. And that’s,
especially coupled with the shape of your head, is exactly what’s needed
to advance protection.
The player has their head scanned with an app created by Riddell. Then
Carbon designs and prints seven custom pads with a unique lattice pattern.
So when you squeeze a lattice, every time a strut flexes and buckles, that
absorbs energy. So this is a great way when you take an impact to
distribute it out and absorb all that energy and make a much safer
It’s firm and soft in the different regions where that player needs it,
based on the exact shape of his head.
Peyton Manning has commented already that they’re very comfortable and he’s
very excited about the fit being perfect for his head and it’s fun to see
an athlete like that who really understands, who’s tried a lot of
different helmets in his career.
NFL players get to choose which helmet model they wear and Carbon says more
than 50 wanted to try this one out. At least one player on each NFL team
wore a Riddell speed flex precision Diamond helmet at practices and games
in the second half of the season. One former player, Brent Jones of the
49ers, likes the design so much that he’s now an investor. The pads are
printed in Carbon’s new large high-speed L1 printers. Carbon says its
process is 50 to 100 times faster than traditional 3D printing and they
can use materials with more elasticity and strength. It’s also printing
the soles of Adidas shoes and parts for inside Ford Mustangs and F-150s.
Historically, you’d take a year and a half to two years to introduce a new
product. We’ve gone through literally hundreds of different designs
The helmets come at a time when innovation in protective gear is sorely
needed. The NFL reported 214 concussions this season. Although that number
is down from 281 last season, the dangers of repeated hits to the head are
just beginning to surface. A landmark 2017 study in the Journal of the
American Medical Association showed that 99 percent of examined NFL
players had signs of post mortem chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a
degenerative brain disease that significantly affects decision making,
judgment and cognition. It became notorious when former NFL player Aaron
Hernandez committed suicide in 2017 after a murder conviction. Researchers
found that at just 27 years old, Hernandez suffered the most severe case
of CTE ever discovered in someone younger than 46. Although concussions
are not totally preventable. DeSimone hopes his company’s tech will help.
There’s a lot of kids that are not going to move all the way into the
pros, right? And protecting them is as important as the elite athlete and
so we’re really passionate about getting the technology into the hands
The NFL conducts lab research to evaluate which helmets best reduce head
impact severity. Last year they gave the top two spots to the Zero1 helmet
by Seattle start-up VICIS. It bends and crumples to absorb impact and then
bounces back. This year’s NFL research will reveal if the 3D-printed pads
inside the new Riddell helmet do indeed make it safer than other models.
No word yet on the price of the custom helmets, but Riddell says they’re
meant to last for a player’s entire career. They’ll be available for NFL
and college teams to purchase later this year. And DeSimone hopes one day
it can be used to keep all athletes safer.
You can think of so many other sports: ice hockey, lacrosse, skiing,
military and police and law enforcement. We believe that customized
products more broadly will have a really big impact. And we think that fit
is a key part of having that next level of innovation that drives