Bicycle helmet looking at plastic history
The plastics industry has lagged behind the most exciting modern and innovative products. Plastics enable us to develop advanced medical technologies, more efficient vehicles and high-tech aerospace products.
However, as is often shown on this blog, many of the changes that plastics bring are less glamorous, but equally important. Taking a bicycle helmet: A recent study by Rebecca Ivers, a researcher at the George Institute for Global Health in Australia, found that bicycle helmets, usually made of a variety of plastics, reduce the risk of head injuries by 63-88%.
The epitome of the plastics industry
The history of bicycle helmets today focuses on the epitome of the overall history of the plastics industry: innovative companies have taken advantage of the continuous advancement of plastic materials and manufacturing companies to produce increasingly effective products.
Pre-plastic era: fashion, not safety
Before the plastic entered the helmet scene (in the mid-1970s), the rider proposed some ways to protect himself (mostly ineffective). The most popular, known as the rider's sweater, is simply filled with leather strips, one of which wraps around the head, two of which are covered at the top. These helmets have no effect and are used more as a source of fashion items and psychological assurance.
Polystyrene EPS helmet
The innovation in the truly innovative helmet industry is the use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. Although the helmet had a hard plastic shell as early as the 1960s, it was not until the mid-1970s that innovators had the idea of destroying plastic materials to protect non-disposable human skulls. These plastic materials would be affected first. Given that EPS can reach 98% of the market.
Helmet shell: overweight or need reinforcement?
For most of the 1970s, the helmet consisted of EPS foam in a Lexan plastic case. The housing provides a smooth, sturdy outer surface that transmits impact across the helmet. However, it is difficult for Lexan to develop a ventilation system. This puts the manufacturer in a dilemma - creating a safer helmet with a heavy outer shell.
The solution began in 1990 when manufacturers began using PET (milk jug plastic) to make lightweight, structurally effective helmet shells. Since then, helmet manufacturers have continued to innovate and develop EPP foams that heal after a minor impact, increasing overall durability.