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Rapid Prototyping Technology is Key to Firefighter Helmet Design

Rapid Prototyping

VALENCIA, Calif.--Each year, Pasadena Art Center College of Design showcases the most innovative work created by senior student artists. The designs and ideas found in this show often inspire creative trends worldwide.

For the centerpiece of his senior collection, Art Center senior Joshua Nakaya decided to create a firefighter helmet unlike anything currently on the market. He began the initial design development process by researching the many problems firefighters face while in the line of duty. "I found that the most important needs of a firefighter included more reliable radio communication interaction and more seamless integration between the helmet and the respirator components," explained Nakaya.

Nakaya's resulting helmet design addresses these issues, among others, while keeping with the artistic flair in which Art Center prides itself. The helmet incorporates key alterations that improve the wearer's ability to safely fight fires. Features include an integrated radio interface with speakers positioned above the ears for better communication reception, radio call buttons built into the jaw piece for physically secure interaction, and external speakers for better communication with fellow firefighters and accident victims. Additionally, an adjustable visor is secured to the jaw piece, which provides eye and face protection with a clear face shield. The brim of the helmet is lined with LEDs to provide greater visibility.

When it came to creating his helmet, Nakaya wanted to ensure a high quality model was generated that accurately depicted his design. Solid Concepts (, Art Center's preferred rapid prototyping vendor, teamed with Nakaya to create his helmet with their proprietary ID-LightTM (Industrial Design Light) technology.

ID-LightTM uses standard Stereolithography (SLA) materials and processes, but with a proprietary laser scanning pattern. The laser produces a thin outer shell that encases a drainable inner scaffolding-like matrix, which reportedly makes ID-Light one-fifth to one-twelfth the weight of similar solid SLA models. The result was a rigid, accurate, and lightweight product--perfect for the unique helmet design Nakaya planned to display at the senior showcase.

"RP technologies like ID-Light are easy to work with," stated Nakaya. "With so much emphasis on 3D modeling in design, it's important to be able to produce and evaluate designs in true, physical 3D. Rapid prototyping lets you do that quickly. The light-weight qualities of ID-Light are excellent."

With ID-Light, Nakaya was able to replicate a full-scale helmet that would have been too heavy and too expensive using traditional rapid prototyping methods. Using ID-Light, the helmet model translated the light-weight properties of the design while retaining the geometry's accuracy. Plus, the hard outer shell created by the technology offered an exceptional paint surface.

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