We’re two floors below the spacious, open-plan office where impact protection ideas are fermented and shared on computer screens. Here, down in the bowels of D3O HQ, lie the laboratories in which materials are formulated, moulded into prototypes and vigorously tested.
This is the playground of the research and development teams: a sequence of exciting high-tech labs equipped with state of the art impact test rigs, tensometers, computerized numerical control (CNC) tool making machines, polyurethane (PU) processors, ovens, fridges and washing machines. D3O® products have to go through a rigorous set of tests before they’re passed fit for production.
D3O receives over 50 enquiries each week with ideas for new applications for its impact protection technologies. The Technology team, made up of material scientists, product developers and testing engineers, then go to work to bring these opportunities to life.
The material scientists carefully tune D3O’s unique polymer blends to achieve specific properties to the final application. Is it required to meet or exceed an industry standard, temperature stability, abrasion resistance, flexibility?
The dedicated Material Development Lab enables the chemists to develop new material formulations in-house as well as optimize and refine specific properties within D3O’s portfolio of existing patented and proprietary technologies to ensure it’s fit for purpose.
Each material development is carefully analysed, characterised and tested in the Test Lab, which is regulated to a consistent 23 degrees C and 55 per cent humidity.
If a material is being developed for use in extreme temperatures, such on Arctic oil rigs or desert military wear a conditioning unit will chill or heat it as required before testing.
Most testing is for impact resistance. The impact rig drops a weight onto the material being tested and takes measurements of force and deceleration. The weights can take many forms to replicate real-life impacts, such as a kerb stone hitting a motorcycle back protector or a head in a crash helmet.
A tensometer is used to stretch and compress materials to test their durability under stress. Products designed for wearing, such as protective base layers and gloves, are run through extensive machine washing and drying trials to ensure continued performance after use.
The Product Design and Development team use D3O® materials to create custom and stock impact protection products with enhanced shock absorption properties.
A design process that begins in 2D progresses through a 3D CAD stage and then to the CNC room for rapid-prototyping. Tools are cut and technicians pour in D3O® materials in their liquid form, which react and set to form the protector.
The rapid-prototyping facilities enable the Product Development team to trial different geometries, thicknesses and densities to achieve optimum comfort, flexibility and impact protection properties specific to the final application.
At each stage during the development process, the team experiments with different designs and material formulations. All of which are extensively tested, evaluated and optimized ahead of wearer trials and, ultimately, mass production.
This article was originally published in Issue 01 of Impact Magazine, which is available to download.