VICIS and Carbon Combine Technologies to Create Top-Rated Helmets

VICIS and Carbon have partnered to introduce the next generation of football helmet technology. The ZERO2 Matrix features custom 3D-printed, interchangeable fit pods, optimized to provide the ultimate in both player fit and protection. This is achieved by combining Carbon’s latest iteration of impact-damping material with VICIS’ proprietary lattice design. The result is a first-of-its-kind custom fit system, a key component of the top-performing helmets in the NFL. Matrix technology is now offered in the industry’s first position-specific helmets, the VICIS ZERO2 MATRIX QB and the ZERO2-R MATRIX TRENCH, designed for the unique impacts experienced by quarterbacks and linemen.

NFL Protocols and Position-Specific Helmets

The NFL/NFLPA collaborated with biomechanical experts to study on-field impacts and develop helmet-testing protocols designed to evaluate helmet performance. The results of these tests are updated annually and published in the form of an overall helmet performance ranking. In 2023, VICIS took the top five spots on this ranking, with three of these models utilizing Carbon-printed MATRIX pads.

These tests have recently been expanded to understand position-specific impacts for offensive and defensive linemen. This year, for the first time, the NFL added a designator to top-performing linemen’s helmets. The only two helmets to receive this designator were the VICIS TRENCH models, with the overall top-ranked helmet being the VICIS ZERO2-R MATRIX ID TRENCH, featuring the Carbon-printed MATRIX fit system. Read more about it here.

Figure 1. NFL/NFLPA 2023 Helmet Lab Testing Performance Results

In 2021, VICIS was the first helmet manufacturer to launch a position-specific helmet with the TRENCH model, optimized for linemen. The TRENCH features an additional protective “shield” on the front of the helmet, tuned to handle the lower velocity, every-down impacts a lineman typically experiences. In 2023, VICIS once again disrupted the football world by releasing the ZERO2 MATRIX QB model, a helmet built to withstand the uniquely intense impacts most often experienced by NFL quarterbacks.

Figure 2. VICIS ZERO2 MATRIX QB helmet

Developing the MATRIX Fit System

When looking to improve the performance of their ZERO2 helmet, the engineers at VICIS turned to 3D-printed lattices to create an impact-absorbing structure that was high-performing, consistent, durable, and pushed the limits of modern 3D-printing technology. Fortunately, Carbon printers and materials were up to the task, and VICIS was able to successfully develop this solution by leveraging the unique advantages of Carbon technology. The result was the highest-performing helmet in the game: the ZERO2 featuring MATRIX technology.

Designing the Lattice

The job of the MATRIX fit system is two-fold: to provide a stable fit while maintaining exceptional impact protection. Lattice structures are the right tool for the job, but developing the best lattice took some serious time and effort. The lattice structure must correctly interact with the overall helmet construction during impact while still maintaining a comfortable fit. This meant the lattice needed to provide a high initial stiffness while also exhibiting the necessary buckling mechanics to efficiently reduce impact. Existing lattice designs fell short of the target, so VICIS engineers used FEA tools and their on-site Carbon printer to iterate lattice structures until the best design was determined.

The Unit Cell

At the core of lattice development is defining the right unit cell. Unit cells are the building blocks of a lattice. These blocks repeat and connect to form the overall lattice structure. There are many types and variations of unit cell shapes, each offering a multitude of options for how to build a lattice structure within. (See Figure 2 for examples of these.) VICIS’ unique hexahedron unit cell provided the framework for propagating their lattice.

Figure 3. Top: Hexahedron Unit Cell Blocks, Bottom: Tetrahedral Unit Cell Blocks

Filling Complex Shapes

Once the ideal lattice structure and unit cell were decided, the next challenge was how to reliably fill complex geometries while still maintaining a consistent structure. Most unit cells can be easily propagated to fill flat, orthogonal shapes, but filling the curved shapes needed to build a custom helmet was a different challenge. VICIS looked to Carbon’s Design Engine™ software to lay the foundation for how to fill pod volumes required to match any and every head shape out there. Working together, VICIS and Carbon built a methodology that would allow them to easily and consistently fill each unique volume with minimal processing time.

Figure 4. VICIS' Custom Latticed Pad Filling a Complex Curved Volume

Testing revealed that a stable lattice with a regular pattern would absorb impact better than a conformal lattice (which fully adapts to its assigned shape along its outer surfaces and edges, filling every curve without breaking structural integrity). Using a stable instead of a conformal lattice left exposed edges when the pad was trimmed. To address this, a separate mesh was generated that would cover the surface lattice on the sides. This “scaffolding” approach not only improved the finish of the pads but gave additional support to the regular lattice.

Figure 5. Scaffolding of the Front Lattice Pad

EPU 45 Material

Carbon is continually growing and improving its material library, and EPU 45 is its latest energy-damping elastomer. This high-damping material is durable, high-performing, and strain-rate-sensitive—the perfect option for the VICIS MATRIX platform. The strain rate of EPU 45 meant better impact-absorbing characteristics, allowing VICIS to design a lower density, lighter weight, more breathable lattice pad. Printing efficiency and speed were also improved, driving the cost of the system down.

Getting the Right Fit

Proper fit and overall stability are critical for a helmet to function as intended. Creating a custom-fitted helmet directly from a player’s head scan is the most effective way to ensure a helmet will provide the highest level of fit and stability. However, every athlete’s definition of “comfortable” is different. That’s why VICIS provides players with the option to select the comfort profile that best matches their personal preferences. This industry-first hybrid solution means the player doesn’t have to sacrifice comfort and long-term stability to experience a custom fit.

Figure 6. VICIS MATRIX Fit System: Carbon Lattice Pad (Compressed)

Redefining the Pace of Innovation

Since launching the ZERO1 in 2017, VICIS has maintained its competitive edge by setting a new standard for pace of innovation in the football helmet industry. Leveraging Carbon’s 3D printing technology was an invaluable part of this process. Rather than waste valuable development time waiting for test samples or rely on complex, often inaccurate simulations, VICIS engineers used Carbon’s engineering-grade materials to create and improve functional prototypes in-house. These prototypes could be printed, tested, and re-optimized in days, not weeks or months. The result is industry-leading helmet performance driven by the absolute latest technology and materials—the true cutting edge.

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