Technology company McLaren Technology Group is made up of three divisions: McLaren Racing, McLaren Automotive and McLaren Applied Technologies. 3D printing is a major technology used by the company; a partnership with Stratasys has seen McLaren’s Formula 1 team driving cars made with several 3D printed parts. When one of those drivers had surgery that left his rib cage compromised, McLaren used the same technology that makes its cars so impenetrable to provide the driver with wearable armor.
The driver approached McLaren Applied Technologies after having thoracic surgery that left his rib cage unable to fully protect his vital organs, including the heart and lungs. In a collaboration that involved multiple divisions of the company, McLaren set out to create something that would do the job of the rib cage, protecting those organs in daily life and on the racetrack. Thus began what would be called Project Invincible. The team started by taking measurements and 3D scans of the client’s chest region so they could design a plate that would fit perfectly, protect the most vulnerable areas, and dissipate impact.
“We effectively had a blank canvas,” said project lead Dan Toon. “When we received the client’s brief, we didn’t have a particular solution in mind. And that was actually a benefit because it gave the whole team the freedom to explore all the issues and understand every constraint. Our journey started with a one-to-one meeting with the client. What were their expectations and key requirements? Our client wanted their day-to-day experience improved, requiring it to be discreet beneath a shirt, for instance. So, we spent several hours creating a detailed requirement specification to underpin the development. We spent a month alone generating and developing ideas against the brief and that set of constraints.”
The team consulted with material and textile experts to create a wearable garment, while using the scan data to create a CAD file for a chest plate. They used Stratasys FDM and PolyJet 3D printers to prototype the plate, which would ultimately be made from a lightweight composite composed of Dyneema fibers, which are used in body armor, for damage containment, plus a tough resin system with woven fabrics for impact resistance. It also included Zylon fibers, which are used in F1 cars, and stiff carbon fibers for flexural rigidity and load-carrying capability.
The shield was molded perfectly to the client’s body, and was attached via three plates to a form-fitting mesh garment that could be worn under clothing. The plates were made from a gel material designed to attenuate load and protect the body. Once the shield was created, it was subjected to a number of high-impact tests, which it successfully passed. The client can now go about his daily business while being confident of not being injured by potential impacts.
“From digital therapeutics, to tailored human performance programmes and bespoke medical devices, our aim is to innovate health care solutions that can be tailored for individual patients,” said Dr. Adam Hill, McLaren’s Chief Medical Officer. “The common thread in all of our projects is data. We use data to build a digital picture of how a patient is performing or recovering, and then create solutions, or in the case of the Project Invincible, devices, to aid our users. Applied Technologies has a pedigree of applying insight and technology developed from decades of elite motorsport competition, and Project Invincible is no different. The Invincible shield is made from materials that will be in next year’s Formula 1 car.”
McLaren can now use this technology to help other individuals suffering from the same condition; the digital design of the armor means that it can be completely customized to fit any patient, providing them with protection worthy of an F1 race car.
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