Reverse Engineering

Schutt Sports Scores with Football Helmet Digitization

9 Mar, 2011 By: Nicholas Iwaskow

With the help of software, this safety equipment company transforms captured surface data directly into SolidWorks CAD models.

Do you want to be safe, or do you want to be cool? When it comes to sports, these are often mutually exclusive options, but not in the case of Schutt Sports football helmets and faceguards. The company's Ion 4D, Schutt AiR XP, and DNA Pro+ are the world's only helmets to feature advanced TPU (thermoplastic urethane) cushioning — the material used in U.S. fighter pilot and paratrooper helmets. These helmets protect heads and look good doing it.

Though a rising star, Schutt Sports has made football safety equipment since 1935, when it developed the sport's first faceguard. Today, three out of four pro football players wear Schutt Sports gear. The company recently decided to aggressively upgrade its entire helmet and faceguard line, a decision that presented several engineering challenges.

Recovering Complex Surfaces from 2D Designs

The first of these challenges was complexity of form. Although it may appear to be roughly spherical, a football helmet in fact has a complex set of curves to optimize safety, fit, performance, and eye appeal. Adding to this complexity are cooling vents that keep the wearer comfortable and help prevent heat stroke.

Cooling vents and an multipart cushioning system are two of the design elements integral to this Schutt Ion helmet.

Second, Schutt's engineering documents were trapped in static 2D files, presenting a major productivity hurdle for engineers who were used to working with Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks 3D modeling software.

"We needed a straightforward way to get our existing, older designs into a 3D format so we could update them," said Tony VanHoutin, Schutt's lead design engineer. "We could not compromise on precision because we need a perfect fit of all helmet components — including shells, padding, faceguards, and fasteners — across our full range of child and adult sizes."

To redesign helmet components such as this Air Maxx padding system, Schutt engineers must first convert complex shapes into 3D models.

The traditional method for converting products with complex shapes into 3D models is to take measurements using calipers, tape measures, and micrometers; enter the dimensions into spreadsheets; and key these dimensions into CAD models. Achieving accurate results requires a lot of measurements, high-level spatial abilities, specialized engineering expertise, and many professional staff hours (plus a little luck).

Solution: Digitization

Schutt engineers determined that digital scanning was the best solution. The company purchased a desktop 3D coordinate measurement machine (CMM) digitizer from FARO Technologies — essentially a wand that the user passes over the contours of an object to capture the surface data. This solution removed the complexity of extrapolating discrete measurements into complex surface shapes.

Digitization tools, however, typically create an ASCII point cloud of x, y, and z geometric data points. In order to import the data into CAD software, it's converted into the industry-standard IGES data exchange format. That file is then converted, by a second IGES translator, into the CAD software's native file format. This multistep translation into and out of IGES is only as reliable as the software code in the translators. Too often, errors pile up over several conversions, and features that are scanned become corrupted before they reach the CAD model.

The Value of Native Translation

Fortunately, Schutt engineers discovered, a company whose reverse-engineering product can convert a point cloud from a digitizer directly into a native parametric CAD model (in this case, a SolidWorks SLDPRT file) in real time. transforms SolidWorks software into a dynamic digitizing platform, accurately conveying points, open lines, closed lines, open splines, closed splines, circles, arcs, rectangles, and more.

"We just run the stylus over the 'old' helmet, and it appears as a fully operational, fully parametric SolidWorks model with none of the mistakes, compromises, or limitations of geometry run through the IGES format," said VanHoutin. Once the model is in the SolidWorks software, VanHoutin's team can modify, update, and elaborate on the design with ease. "What would take weeks with rulers, Excel, IGES translations, and file repairs, takes a few minutes with the desktop 3D CMM digitizer,, and SolidWorks," said VanHoutin.

Schutt is using SolidWorks as its CAD tool because of its combination of ease of use and power. It handles all the surfaces of the pre-existing helmets and makes it simple for VanHoutin's team to improve on them for its next generation of helmets, he reports. "SolidWorks is user-friendly but it's just as powerful as more expensive and complicated software," VanHoutin said. "It handles all the complex organic surfaces. There's nothing I can't do with it."

Additional Applications

As a SolidWorks Certified Gold Product, software is integrated directly into SolidWorks, creating a single-window consolidated environment providing full access to both software products, yet treating them as one.

In addition to converting old designs into 3D models, the Schutt team can turn one-off custom designs, like the helmet they made for Super Bowl–winning quarterback Eli Manning, into standard product offerings. Engineers simply digitize the custom item, incorporate it into a SolidWorks CAD model, and mass-produce it, netting the same weeks-to-minutes time savings. This reverse-engineering process is also standard for the development of new stainless steel, carbon steel, and titanium faceguard configurations.

Schutt also uses's software for inspection. When Schutt engineers receive a helmet or faceguard from a new mold, they digitize it into SolidWorks and compare the actual product to the CAD design. Schutt saves weeks of scrap, rework, and redesign time, as well as thousands of dollars in potential costs.

"We're eliminating time, cost, and risk at every step," explained VanHoutin. "With the and SolidWorks software combination, we're capturing data quickly, we're avoiding the errors of translation, and we're verifying, from the earliest possible moment, that what we make is actually what we designed. That's good for our business and, most importantly, good for our athletes."

About the Author: Nicholas Iwaskow

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