Machine Design

Building safer seats for Indy racers

Laser scanning lets a pair of companies create protective seats for Indy cars and other racing vehicles in a much faster and efficient new way.

A laser scanner creates CAD files that perfectly duplicate a seat's shape.

Rules require IRL drivers use cocoonlike seats that protect them during 220-mph crashes. The seats are made from beaded foam that absorbs forces before they hit the driver. In the past, drivers would sit on a bag filled with expanded polystyrene beads and resin to create an exact imprint of them in their most comfortable driving position. The entire process took at least 20 hr. And every time a car is in an accident or a driver switches cars, a new seat must be created.

The new seat-construction technique devised by Createc Corp., ( and Bald Spot Sports, (, both in Indianapolis, relies on laser scanning and CAD software. In effect, the technique generates a three-dimensional blueprint of a race seat that fits a driver and can be used repeatedly.

Technicians use a portable laser scanner to create a CAD file that duplicates the seat shape. If the driver already has a preferred seat, a fitting is not required at all. Instead, the seat itself is scanned to produce the CAD file. The file generates inputs for a CNC program that directs a machine center to carve the seat out of a single block of Creasorb, a multiple impact foam from Createc. It is a lightweight, closed-cell foam that resists impacts better than currently used seat materials, thus eliminating the need for replacement after minor impacts. It also has superior shock absorption, withstands multiple impacts, and resists most of the chemicals and solvents used in racing.

After deciding to use laser scanning, Createc and Bald Spot Sports considered purchasing a laser-scanning system but it didn't make sense at the early stages of the project. "Laser-scanning technology is rapidly improving, and we were concerned that our lack of experience might lead us to a purchase that we would regret later," says Cameron Cobb, business development manager for Createc. "We looked for a service bureau that could guide us through the process while providing the levels of accuracy and fast turnaround we need. Unfortunately, our first few attempts in working with service bureaus were not very successful due to their lack of responsiveness. However, the first time we contacted Laser Design in Minneapolis, they demonstrated they had all the capabilities we needed and were totally dedicated to our success."

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