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The Mainstreaming of Additive Manufacturing

Jan. 25, 2024
The shift from niche to mainstream depends on the growing proficiency among engineers in designing for additive manufacturing.

There’s nothing like a sports event for spreading awareness about a product or technology. 

Certor Sports—parent company to the Vicis brand helmet worn by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during the AFC Wild Card matchup game with Miami Dolphins (Jan. 13)—can vouch for that.

Mahomes was making his way to the end zone when he butted heads with the Dolphins’ safety DeShon Elliott. His helmet cracked and a chunk flew off. But he would carry on for two more plays before officials noticed.  

That indelible play was good fodder for conversation for sports analysts and diehard fans alike. It also drew attention to the safety and construction of the helmet during frigid conditions. 

READ MORE: 4D Printing: The Next Dimension of Advanced Manufacturing

With temperatures around −4°F and wind gusts up to 27 mph, players faced the fourth coldest night in NFL history. Analysts reported anecdotally that the cold weather was likely a factor in the helmet’s malfunction. 

An official statement issued by the sporting goods manufacturer defended the helmet’s performance and testing: “Extreme conditions like those experienced in Saturday evening’s NFL playoff game are bound to test the limits of even the highest performing products,” they said. 

Certor Sports stated that “while outer shell damage is not ideal, the ZERO2 helmet did its job of protecting Patrick Mahomes during the head-to-head impact in unprecedented cold temperatures.”

They explained that the exclusive multi-layer technology in the Vicis Zero2 helmet model uses a deformable outer shell, RFLX impact absorption layer and a stiff inner shell, and compared the design approach to “the crumple zone of modern cars, which effectively absorb and disperse impact forces at the point of contact.”

READ MORE: Q&A: Supply Chain Management with 3D Printing: Input from HP’s Dave Prezzano

Carbon, a California-based 3D printing technology stalwart, partnered with Vicis in the design of Mahomes’ Zero2 MATRIX QB custom-fit helmet. Carbon’s website provides a glimpse into the rigor that goes into 3D printing these helmets. Prototypes are subjected to meticulous performance simulations and testing, and are built to withstand the uniquely intense impacts most often experienced by NFL quarterbacks. In this case, engineers preferred additive manufacturing processes, as they were able to create functional prototypes in-house, print, test, re-test and optimize their designs within days. 

The development of Mahomes’ helmet serves as a proxy for McKinsey’s four sources of value associated with additive manufacturing technologies. First, there is the freedom to design and create custom 3-D shape parts that perform better and cost less than using conventional methods. Second, the elimination of molds or fixed tooling means they can produce bespoke components, which, in turn, pioneer mass-scale customization. Third, manufacturers can optimize product design when they have the ability to develop, print and test functional prototypes in-house. And finally, additive manufacturing’s on-demand capability can provide maintenance support by reducing inventories. 

Of course, our day-to-day reality is marked by less fanfare and hype than Mahomes’ helmet. But, as you flip through our forthcoming January/February 2024 issue, you will agree that the integration of additive manufacturing workflows across industries are no less remarkable. 

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READ MORE: Additive Manufacturing Innovations Drive Industry Forward

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