Buckeye All-American turns to research to protect against hard hits
Shawn Springs has spent his career focused on impact.
Springs was an All-American and twice earned All-Big Ten honors playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes. After that, he held his ground as cornerback for three teams, made the Pro Bowl, and snatched 33 interceptions during his 13-season career in the NFL.
Now, Springs is bringing his drive for impact back to his alma mater, where he is collaborating with university researchers within the College of Engineering to change the game, and science, affecting how we better protect ourselves from concussion and impacts that affect our everyday lives.
Springs is the founder and chief executive of Windpact, a technology and applied science company focused on the analysis, design and implementation of impact protection solutions. The company developed a new impact-mitigating technology and maintains a database of characterized foam materials.
The athlete-turned-entrepreneur hit the ground running in 2011, hiring the company’s first employees in 2015. Before long, Windpact had received grants from the NFL and, more recently, secured a two-year U.S. Department of Defense contract to produce new padding solutions for soldier’s combat helmets.
“When I first started Windpact, I had no idea of the important role The Ohio State University would play in our growth and success,” Springs said. “Discovering the immense talent and resources that the school has to offer has allowed us to put together one of my all-time favorite teams.”
Researchers at Ohio State have been collaborating with Windpact to characterize materials used for that potentially life-saving technology through the university’s Dynamic Mechanics of Materials Laboratory. The lab specializes in mechanical characterization of materials to measure ranges in force and strain rates.
“We work with many companies and Windpact is one of our favorites,” said Amos Gilat, professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the Dynamic Mechanics of Materials Laboratory. “Shawn’s energy, vision and commitment are contagious and fun to be associated with.”
Offering years of expertise and an array of capabilities, the Dynamic Mechanics of Materials Laboratory immediately stood out to Springs as a valuable collaborator.
“Dr. Gilat is one-of-a-kind,” he said. “It’s an honor to work with his lab, expanding our knowledge through the techniques his team has developed. Their work is a critical element of our success.”
Jeremy Seidt, a research associate professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, works with Windpact and other companies to conduct tension, compression and shear experiments with the lab’s advanced instrumentation.
“There are a lot of reasons to come here,” Seidt said. “We have a pretty wide range of testing equipment to utilize, including custom devices that nobody else has.”
One unique piece of equipment, nicknamed “the long bar,” is an integral part of collecting data and testing the composite materials of different foams in Windpact’s Crash Cloud technology. The equipment consists of a servohydraulic actuator and a 130-foot-long transmitter bar that allows researchers to obtain high-quality data within a uniquely wide range of strain rates.
In the lab, researchers load Windpact’s material composite between an actuator and the long transmitter bar. The actuator then impacts the material’s free end, causing it to deform between the actuator and the transmitter bar. This causes a compression wave to propagate into the transmitter bar. The length of the bar gives researchers 16 milliseconds of measurement time before the reflection reaches strain gages near the material sample.
Waiting by those strain gages, researchers are ready with a dual-camera, high-speed 3D digital image correlation system capable of capturing images of deforming samples at speeds of up to 125,000 frames per second.
Ultimately, researchers at the Dynamic Mechanics of Materials Laboratory put together precise representations of what the materials are going to do at certain strain rates, based on the stress data from the load cell and the strain field from image correlation, Seidt said.
“The tests proved to Windpact that high strain rate characterization of the material or characterization of the material over a range of strain rates is necessary in order to design newer versions of their product in an accurate, predictive way,” he said.
Characterizing materials is a key part of Windpact’s Finite Element Analysis operations, Springs said.
“This is critical to our business,” he said. “The characteristics of each foam that we send to Ohio State gives us valuable data that we use in our modeling.”
Springs’ long-term vision for Windpact is clear: to push the startup to become the most advanced impact protection company in the world, Springs said.
But, in the development of technology that can be applied far beyond football helmets, from baseball catchers’ masks to combat helmets for our soldiers, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
Springs knows that. He doesn’t have to imagine the value of improved impact technology across a range of applications.
Springs has been surrounded by impacts his entire life. He is the son of former NFL running back and Buckeye Ron Springs, who wore that Scarlet and Gray helmet under coach Woody Hayes. He is the father of a young child involved in a serious car crash, who came away unharmed due in part to the technology in his baby’s car seat.
Springs, already impressed with the impact solution being used in that car seat, had begun exploring the possibility of using the technology in a football helmet. The accident, and the protection the car seat provided, solidified his desire to build Windpact, giving him a platform to improve impact protection across different applications. It drove him with a desire to protect not only his kids, but athletes, military personnel and anywhere impact affected daily lives.
Soon after, the Institute for Materials Research connected the company’s team to engineers at Ohio State who could further Windpact’s mission to solve some of the most challenging impact problems.
“My father was a professional athlete, and I followed in his footsteps to Ohio State and the NFL. What it does is put into perspective that, one, life is short and, two, traumatic brain injury is real,” Springs said. “It’s real and it is not going away. But there will be innovative companies like Windpact that will continue to work with the brightest minds to help mitigate the impacts. The opportunity to come back to my alma mater to help build my business feels like life is coming full-circle.”
Story by Mike Huson, Institute for Materials Research Public Relations Coordinator