Football, at least the American version, is a violent game where collisions involving enormous and sudden forces are the currency of the realm and the difference between winning and losing.
But those collisions don’t come without exacting a price from the athletes on the field, and they don’t only occur in football. Boxing, football, and hockey have become the focus for discussions of traumatic brain injury in athletes, but recent legal action and high-profile players have brought football to the forefront of this controversial topic.
Once played by athletes wearing nothing more than flimsy leather helmets – when they wore helmets at all – football remains a truly dangerous pursuit.
The coaches and administrators who serve as the gatekeepers of the game are only now beginning to understand the toll football can cause to the minds and bodies of those who play the game at the highest levels.
For most of the existence of the National Football League, a head injury was referred to as “getting your bell rung” or some other such colorful phrase, but what had actually occurred was a subconcussive blast to the brain.
A lack of action to deal with the problem resulted in the NFL ultimately agreeing to fork out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit filed by some 5,000 former players who say the league ignored the dangers of repeated hits to the head. As it stands, the NFL now has a detailed concussion management protocol that runs to a mighty stack of pages and outlines specific courses of action which must be followed when a player suffers an apparent head injury.
But a year before the first lawsuits began filtering through the courts, Reebok, the athletic gear manufacturer, began work on what they called the CHECKLIGHT. It’s a wearable device made to register and record blows to the head.
The CHECKLIGHT was an idea which came along at the exactly correct moment, and it won a pile of awards for its design. And the product could only have come about through the use of 3D printing.
Once Reebok research found that of the 113 million people who participate in sports which require helmets or head protection, 1 in 100 would ultimately suffer some form of traumatic brain injury, the objective was clear to them. Gary Rabinovitz of Reebok’s rapid prototyping laboratory was tasked with finding a solution. Rabinovitz, who also serves as an advisor to the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG), spent the next four years developing CHECKLIGHT.
The device put 465 subjects through 1,500 experiments and the prototypes were tested with more than 15,000 drops. During the work on the prototypes, Rabinovitz and his team used a total of five types of 3D printing technologies.
What they came up with is a piece of headgear which includes sensors directly coupled to the head which can be worn with and without a helmet and logs the total number of impacts recorded.
“It really would not have been possible to do it, even in the four year time period (without 3D printing),” Rabinovitz says. “We went from an initial big, ugly unit with a pack on the back, down to a single unit. It was really a big thing for Reebok, it was our first attempt at wearable technology.”
How can you see 3D printing technology impacting product design in the future? Do you know about any other examples of this sort of design iteration success story? Let us know in the 3D Printing to Protect Athletes forum thread on 3DPB.com.
Check out this video of Rabinovitz explaining how 3D printing enabled the development of the CHECKLIGHT: