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Making a Better Football Helmet with Digital Testing and 3D Printing

Prototyping is part of the rigorous iterative design and engineering process applied to all Xenith protective gear. Prototyping is our in-house ability to, both physically and digitally, model and test our products. For the purpose of this blog we’re going to specifically look at the design and engineering process behind the biggest advancement in Xenith helmet technology to date, the Energy Control Layer in Xenith Shadow XR, the RHEON™ Shock.

Learn more about Xenith Shadow XR here.

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The first step in this process is material testing; determining what materials will make up the Energy Control Layer. In the case of Xenith Shadow XR, we partnered with RHEON Labs in the UK. We were able to test their existing products and determined that they had superior ingredient technology for energy control. You can read more about our partnership with RHEON™ here.


With a material identified, we needed to determine how to best use RHEON™ in a football helmet. Enter, digital testing. The primary advantage of digital testing is being able to evaluate without actually making the product. This way, we can efficiently narrow down the scope of what needs to be made.


Digital testing helps us choose a handful of solutions that could optimally perform. However, physical testing is needed, because even the most sophisticated model has a hard time capturing all of the nuances of the components, the system, and the environment.


Using a 3-D printing process called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), done in collaboration and at Imperial College, London, we printed molds for dozens of different shock configurations. Using the 3D-printed molds, we produced small quantities of different designs and ran them through physical testing. Normally, it would be cost prohibitive to create dozens of prototypes. However, this new capability, enabled by RHEON™ and Imperial College, allowed us to test many ideas at once.


Physical testing allowed us to validate our finite element model of Xenith Shadow XR. “Validated” means that there is agreement between physical and digital testing. This gives us the confidence to trust the simulation, then confirm with the physical. Without the physical confirmation, the simulation is just a rough approximation.


An example of where a validated digital model is absolutely essential is an optimization procedure, where you’re trying to hit a certain outcome (say, force reduction during impact) and you have several variables you could modify to achieve the outcome. The complete list of possible permutations is simply too long to physically make and test, but with simulation you set it up and let it run! Then you make a small subset of the best performing parts to confirm with physical in order to preserve your resources and save time.


This iterative process is one of many product design processes with which Xenith elevates the athletes who wear our products. The capabilities of our team and partners are second to none in the industry. Please click the links to learn more about Xenith Shadow XR’s comfort, balance, or NFL helmet test results.

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