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School of Engineering receives backing of NFL project

17 December 2015

A technician working in the Additive Manufacturing Laboratory

The School of Engineering is using the latest 3-D printing technology as part of a project backed by America’s National Football League (NFL) that is aiming to combat head injuries in sport.

The School will have access to the $250,000 (£167,000) awarded to Charles Owen Inc., a Wrexham-based company, as part of the Head Health Challenge. Three other groups have been awarded the same funding, with the potential for a further $500,000 (£335,000) available for one of them.

The NFL has awarded the funding alongside Under Armour, GE and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Charles Owen are partnering with the School to use their share of the money to research the uses of an elastic, foam-like material known as C3, at our Additive Manufacturing Laboratories.

The team working on the project will be testing how they can treat the material to maximise its potential uses in helmets, as well as testing different designs for the best way to structure the material. Testing multiple variations of the same material is made much easier by the 3-D printing process, by which a polymer-based powder is bound together in a specific shape by a laser.

Though head injuries are common in a number of sports, it is a particularly hot topic in the NFL. A study produced by Boston University this year found that 79% of people who had played any level of American football had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), with the figure rising to 96% for those who had played professionally in the NFL. New rules have recently been introduced in the league in an effort to improve player safety.

Dr Peter Theobald from the School of Engineering will be leading the project’s activities here. He commented: “This highly prestigious award provides us with a platform to continue developing C3 towards our ultimate goal of achieving a material that provides a step-change in head health and protection, whilst achieving metrics that ensure commercial viability.”

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