Soldiers use helmets to protect their heads from bullets and bomb fragments. With their overwrapped composite helmet, the Protension company owned by TU Delft alumni Lucas van den Akker and Jack Wetzels aims to lift as much weight as possible from the shoulders of the soldiers. Lighter and safer.
A rotating mould, 32 thermoplastic fibre threads and a smart overwrapping technique – these features allow the machines of Protension to produce one helmet shell every 10 minutes. The shell is a few centimetres thick, a press reducing it to about 7 mm. In the meantime, a thermoplastic resin flows between the fibres. After cooling, the result is a compact, rock-solid helmet weighing 1 kg.
The TU Delft alumnus Lucas van den Akker established Protension as a technological consultancy firm after graduating in 2007. Jack Wetzels joined him in 2009. He had completed a graduation project on the overwrapping of carbon bicycle rims. This project resulted in a machine-based production process for superlight rims made of continuous carbon fibres. Protension patented this ring-overwrapping method. The bicycle industry has been using it ever since.
For two years, the company has also been developing overwrapped military helmets. The material used is a true plastic, a thermoplastic. ‘It is actually the same material used in a sandwich bag’, explains Wetzels. ‘But it has been reinforced to the point that it has become the strongest fibre in the world, 15 times stronger by weight than steel.’
The Ministry of Defence has invested €200 thousand over the past two years. In the coming years, Protension hopes to continue working with the Ministry of Defence to develop what would be ‘the world’s lightest combat helmet’. ‘The goal is to develop the helmet to be a perfect match for the requirements of the Ministry of Defence. The design, production technology and supply chain would then be ready, and we could start delivery – first in the Netherlands, and then internationally.’