Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Novel composite materials for impact-resistant helmets

Mandatory helmet use is now common for motorcyclists and construction workers with new regulations likely for many types of recreational use. EU-funded researchers developed novel materials and process methods resulting in helmets with superior performance at a fraction of the cost compared to conventional technology.
Novel composite materials for impact-resistant helmets
European helmet producers are mostly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that require novel products at competitive prices to remain profitable. EU funding of the ‘Hybrid thermoplastic composites for recyclable and high performance head protection systems’ (PRO-HEAD) project enabled European researchers to develop innovative high performance low-cost helmet shells based on the use of shape memory alloys in thermoplastic materials.

Thermoplastic materials are polymers that can be repeatedly liquefied with heating, and shaped and solidified when cooled. One of their main advantages is that this makes them highly recyclable. Shape memory alloys are materials that ‘remember’ their previous shapes and can provide significant impact resistance for this reason.

Polypropylene (PP) is one of the most commonly used thermoplastics but it must often be reinforced with glass or natural fibres to achieve the stiffness and strength required by many engineering applications. Self-reinforced polymers (SRPs) provide a solution to this problem as they are composed of 100 % single polymers whose molecular chains align themselves to create reinforcing fibres within the polymer matrix.

Researchers sought to manufacture a hybrid composite of superelastic material (Nitinol) and self-reinforced PP. They chose MFT, a light-weight SRP based on mouldable fabric technology (MFT) and now known as Tegris, with excellent stiffness and significantly higher impact resistance than typical thermoplastic composites.

PRO-HEAD successfully developed a novel hybrid superelastic shape memory alloy textile as well as a simple, environmentally friendly and cost-effective one-step forming process.

A flat hybrid sample demonstrated a 30 % increase in absorbed impact energy compared to a simple thermoplastic flat sample. In addition, a prototype motorcycle helmet demonstrated a 10 % increase in absorbed impact energy when compared to a conventional fibre-glass–reinforced helmet of the same weight.

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