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ProtosRobust 3D printed elements for field tests

Elastic, fracture-resistant, thermally stable and precise: New accessories for the Protos Integral modular helmet undergo extensive testing before certification and series production. 1zu1 produced 150 fully functional light and battery mounts for the helmet using the SLS process.

Whether for work in forests, on mountains, on construction sites or underground, all new accessories for the Protos Integral helmet must withstand plenty of punishment. For this reason, the majority of these additional elements are integrated into the helmet itself – a world first. In order to mount certain elements directly on the Protos shell, such as the new variable action-cam mount or the battery for the Lupine light, precision and stability are mandatory. This begins in the pilot phase, in which the helmet’s first customers put the new accessories through their paces under real-world conditions before the official market launch.

1zu1 has supported the development of the Protos from the first prototype to its market launch ten years ago. Since then, the 3D printing specialists have really proven their worth by producing numerous, incredibly durable pre-production accessory components. In spring 2022, they were asked to produce the attachments for an LED light and its battery.

1zu1 project manager Sebastian Fink, Protos inventor Anton Pfanner and co-developer Martin Greber explain what really matters in terms of making practical use of 3D printed elements, and what advantages they bring.

Mr. Pfanner, what distinguishes the Protos Integral from conventional safety helmets?

Anton Pfanner: The Protos Integral is the world’s leading, high-quality head protection system, and not just a helmet. We integrate key components between the inner and outer shells, such as hearing, face, and neck protection, chin straps and rear ventilation. This allows the use of modular attachments and at the same time extends the helmet’s service life. The Protos Integral is available in various configurations and colors. Indeed, many examples are one-offs. Our customers appreciate the customization options just as much as the high quality and the constant price level – there have been no price increases since the market launch. Instead, we compensate for rising costs through more efficient production and design optimizations. In this context, we benefit greatly from our collaboration with 1zu1.

How did you become aware of 1zu1?

Martin Greber: I’ve been a satisfied 1zu1 customer ever since the company was founded. So they were our first choice when developing the initial prototype for the Protos Integral. I’ve always been impressed by their reliability and quality. In terms of mechanical properties, their SLS components are impressive, almost approaching those of injection-molded parts. In addition, their delivery times, which never slip, provide security during the development process. Since both Protos and 1zu1 are located in Vorarlberg, we can visit their production facility at any time. All of this gives us a head-start in terms of the certification process. We can get useable prototypes and pre-series parts at short notice and can thus carry out meaningful practical tests.

What can 1zu1 contribute to the development process?

Sebastian Fink: While Protos ensures the optimum shape of the components, we are responsible for the corresponding functionality and appearance. In this specific case, we supplied black, precise, sturdy, frost- and heat-resistant parts. With use the latest SLS equipment as the basis for creating these elements. We exploit the full potential of 3D printing through our technological and material-specific expertise, which has been growing for years, as well as optimal production conditions. Our climate-controlled rooms guarantee consistent temperature and humidity levels. This is also the key to high repeatability during finishing work.

What were the biggest challenges when creating the light and battery mounts for this project?

Martin Greber: Every part installed in the Protos must meet exacting mechanical requirements. To ensure that both mounts can be snapped in and out properly and easily, elasticity is required in addition to stability. They must not break, even under high pressure, and mustn’t become brittle after repeated attachment and removal. Except for 1zu1, no one could supply SLS parts of this quality. Our 3D printed parts from the early stages of development still work perfectly even ten years later.

How do the 3D printed test parts evolve into the finished product?

Anton Pfanner: We received the first five accessory sets after just four working days. We were immediately able to perform internal load tests and measurements in the laboratory. The results were impressive and we ordered 150 units for the first field tests for our pilot customers. They are providing valuable feedback that gives us a head-start in terms of certifying the injection-molded production parts. We can do all of this quickly and without high investment costs for tool development. We plan to start series production in the summer.

Martin Greber: To avoid any surprises down the road, we always have a final prototype produced for pre-certification after the trial run and any modifications. Here, too, we benefit enormously from the high standards at 1zu1. In terms of strength, the SLS parts are very close to injection molding, which means we can more or less carry out an authentic simulation of the certification process.

What are the next steps for the Protos Integral?

Anton Pfanner: In parallel to the retrofit light kit, we are already working on the next generation of safety helmets – for which an optional light module is also planned. In this context, we will continue to build on the knowledge we are currently acquiring. To ensure we remain the global leader, we will work with 1zu1 to develop many more solid 3D printed parts that are as close to the finished product as possible.

In conversation: Anton Pfanner is CEO at Protos GmbH, Martin Greber is developer and Sebastan Fink is project manager at 1zu1 in Dornbirn. The interview was conducted by Joshua Köb; photos by Darko Todorovic.


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