Mechanical characterization of athletic helmet shells

Sports Biomech. 2021 Mar 4;1-12. doi: 10.1080/14763141.2020.1837926. Online ahead of print.


Our purpose was to compare the mechanical properties of the protective outer shells of various athletic helmets in their final, fully manufactured form. Sections were taken from 3 different helmet shells (Bauer RE-AKT hockey helmet, Cascade R lacrosse helmet, and Riddell Speedflex football helmet) at 4 different locations (front, side, top, and rear) for a total of 12 test specimens. The 4 specimens from each helmet shell were potted together in epoxy resin moulds and mechanically polished. The hardness, elastic modulus and phase angle were measured using dynamic nanoindentation performed at 100 Hz with an oscillation amplitude of 1 nm (rms). Repeated ANOVA analysis was used to compare each of the dependent variables for each of the 3 helmets across the 4 different locations. The interaction between helmet type and location was significant for hardness (F6,63 = 2.84, P = 0.032, Pη2 = 0.21), elastic modulus (F6,63 = 6.412, P < 0.001, Pη2 = 0.38), and phase angle (F6,63 = 7.65, P < 0.001, Pη2 = 0.42). Polycarbonate has a higher ability to dissipate mechanical energy making it the recommended superior choice for helmet shells. In addition, the results lead us to speculate that manufacturing causes changes in the molecular weight or the distribution of fillers across locations for polyethylene but not for polycarbonate since mechanical properties are fairly uniform over the surface of football helmets, at least within a given helmet.

Keywords: Nanoindentation; hardness; phase angle; young’s modulus.