In Pursuit of the New: Thermoplastics do Their Bit

August 12, 2010

Project: Thermoplastic Helmet Lining

School: University of Alabama—Birmingham

Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Director: Uday Vaidya

The defense industry has been one of the biggest investors in composites over the past few years. While much of the material is used in vehicles and infrastructure to protect lives, an equally-important consideration is the apparel soldiers wear.

University of Alabama Professor Uday Vaidya has worked with the Army Research Lab on several projects and developed a lightweight liner made of long fiber thermoplastics (LFT) that adds stiffness without adding weight. LFTs are more commonly associated with the automotive industry, but Vaidya wanted to show how they can be used effectively in unconventional applications.

Vaidya did base science work before producing the product, including pre-testing on the coupons to understand fiber orientations, impact testing, and flow conditions. “One of the obstacles in using these fibers was flow during the molding process,” he says. “Because we were using long fibers, they tend to cool quickly. We had to make the mold quicker to accommodate the fibers.”

The result is a LFT rim-stiffened helmet liner that reduces the crush deflection by 66 percent with an added weight penalty of only 19 percent to the outer shell of a helmet. However, Vaidya wants to make the weight even lower. He’s currently in discussions with helmet manufacturers to integrate the concept into their designs. He says this innovative way of demonstrating this approach could fit well with similar needs in personal protection and systems. In other words, there are a lot of avenues in the defense market to pursue, he says.

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