Hao Peng, with the Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, Liaoning province, introduces a new type of protective ski helmets he and his colleagues designed for Chinese athletes' training during the ongoing Winter Olympics. [Photo/China Daily]A new type of protective ski helmet, made with the lightweight technology used in rocket design, is being used by Chinese athletes during training for the ongoing Winter Olympics.
"The helmet has recently been certified as European standard EN1077 and has been put into use by China's professional aerial skiing team," said Hao Peng, a professor at the Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, Liaoning province.
The DUT team previously used the same technology to reduce the weight of China's largest rocket – the Long March 5 Series Launch Vehicle – by 1,145 kilograms.
The newly developed helmet weighs about 700 grams, and its protective capacity is at least 20 percent higher than the standard, without any significant increase in thickness or weight.
"It is with the support of the special 'High-Tech Winter Olympic Games' project that we got the opportunity to apply our 10 years' experience in lightweight aerospace design to a helmet," Hao said.
"We formed a chain of innovation from structural design, material research and development to the injection molding machines used," he said.
After over a year of research, the team was able to integrate the concept of aerospace variable-stiffness panels into the design. The extensive layout and design of curvilinear stiffeners on the inner and outer side of the helmet improves transmission, making it more impact-resistant and protective, Hao said.
For materials, the team used a number of short-carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites instead of a single component.
Through the combination of carbon fiber, glass fiber and elastomer, the helmets' stiffness and tensile strength are increased by four and three times, respectively, while still maintaining impact resistance.
In addition, the team collected data on the head shapes of China's professional athletes, carried out customized design and developed corresponding design software, effectively improving comfort for long-term wear.
Other departments at DUT are also participating in the Winter Olympics and research on athletics.
"This is the first time that our university has applied mechanical concepts to sports," said Li Xiaojie, a professor at DUT.
He believes that this presents an excellent direction for future exploration.
"In the past, optimization and structural weight reduction were used in manufacturing rockets. But eventually, these concepts should be used to serve wider purposes," Li said. "They should gradually be used in industrial and civil applications and play a leading role in science and technology."
Liang Yuhan contributed to this story.