Skydex Technologies Inc. is experimenting with different materials to broaden applications for its thermoformed cushioning material.
The company's system relies on opposing hemispheres that can absorb large shocks as they squeeze together. The hemispheres are arrayed along a sheet, somewhat resembling an egg crate. The cushioning finds use in applications as diverse as military gear, high-end football helmets and some Nike running shoes.
Chief Executive Officer Mike Buchen said his firm is trying out new thermoplastic urethane blends. Straight TPUs are among its standard materials, but for some uses the materials are overengineered and too costly. A TPU Skydex cushion might be able to stand up to a million shocks, but some applications might demand it withstand only a few shocks, he said in a telephone interview.
The Englewood, Colo., company's roots date back to the mid-1990s, when two former Nike employees developed a new type of cushioning for Nike shoes. According to Buchen, they came up with the idea of opposing hemispheres while playing around with clamshell packaging in a fast-food restaurant. In 1999, Skydex Technologies was established to take the cushioning technology beyond running shoes.
Price and performance of raw materials are probably the biggest constraints in Skydex replacing plastic foams and similar materials. Buchen predicts that new Skydex materials, such as those based on Dow's Engage polyolefin elastomers and TPU/ethylene vinyl acetate blends, will replace foams in more cushioning markets. He envisions plastic composites eventually extending applications further.
Skydex holds a range of patents, generally covering parallel plastic sheets with opposing hemispheres or ellipses. By varying the sheet material, geometry and sheet thickness, shock-absorbing qualities can be fine-tuned. Skydex cushioning offers more protection in less space than foams, freeing up more design options in products such as football helmets, according to Buchen.
Components can be made by thermoforming sheet, then welding two sheets together so that the hemispheres oppose each other. Associated Thermoforming Inc. of Berthoud, Colo., is Skydex's chief thermoformer. Alternatively, if the end product is small, it can be made by blow molding.
Buchen said his company wants Skydex to become a household word like the Gore-Tex brand. It recently made strides in that direction during college football bowl games. Several teams debuted Schutt Sports DNA helmets incorporating Skydex technology.