Chicago-Area Company Makes NFL Helmets With Focus on Safety

Des Plaines-based company Riddell is on a mission to tackle a safety problem that continues to plague football players.

The company has been collecting data of on-field impacts for 15 years, using it to produce the safest helmets.

It's also responsible for many of the helmets on the NFL’s approved list. For the first time ever, the league is demanding players choose from an approved list, or they don’t play.

“Some players have never worn a helmet that fit them well before, just because of the shape of their head,” said Thad Ide, Riddell's senior vice president for research and product development.

This prompted Riddell’s latest concept, released in June. It’s called the Precision Diamond helmet. Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky is wearing it this season.

To create one, each player must take digital scans of their head to ensure every bump and contour is accounted for.

The images are then sent to a California company for printing. A 3-D printer is used to size the padding inside the helmet, specific for each player.

Each model spends months, even years, inside Riddell’s innovation lab undergoing a series of tests, measuring force and impact. Riddell uses a life-like model of a human head inside the helmet to see how it’s affected by the tests.

Sports Medicine Expert at Rush University Medical Center Dr. Kathy Weber said she’s happy there is new technology and that people are investing in it, but is not convinced a custom-built helmet will protect from concussions.

“One aspect of a helmet may help one component and may be worse for another component, such as rotational aspects of it,” Weber said.

The complexity of a concussion is one reason why Riddell is prioritizing head protection.

In the future, the company hopes to implant a sensor in every helmet so doctors, coaches and players will be armed with all impact information.

“Riddell is going down the path toward analytics, we are using all this data to better understand how players are playing and maybe suggesting modifications for them based on their playing style,” Ide explained.

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