By Randy K. Logsdon
It is something that you might expect to see being used by an advanced civilization originating from a distant planet, or from the pages of Marvel Comics. But it’s real and quite revolutionary. The substance is known in technical terms as a “dilatant non-Newtonian fluid” and is also marketed under the trademarks “D3o” or “D30.”
Imagine a substance that can be molded into a variety of shapes and maintain flexible and pliable characteristics. Then imagine that substance becoming instantly rigid and nearly impenetrable upon impact and then quickly resuming its previous characteristics. Think of the safety applications.
Richard Palmer, a British engineer, discovered the material in 1999 but the material was not commercialized until 2006. In one of the early applications, thin D30 panels were inserted in the clothing used by ski and snowboard athletes.
The application proved successful in preventing impact injuries while retaining the lightweight and flexibility required for the sport. D30 applications have since expanded to include protection of equipment such as cell phones to personnel in the form of military grade protective armor.
YouTube demonstrations are beginning to pop up. One such demonstration depicts the use of the D30 material in a putty form (similar in consistency to silly putty.) The experiment involves wrapping a strip of the pliable substance around a fresh egg and then striking the strip vigorously with a small hammer. The eggshell remains intact. After removing the D30 strip, the egg is broken into a container confirming that the egg was not hard boiled or otherwise altered. As cool as this stuff is, one may inquire as to what the applications might be for safety, either on the job or off the job?
D30 materials are now being used in helmets, motorcycle jackets, gloves, knee pads, safety shoes and in a variety of sports applications. Several work shoe manufacturers have inserted a D30 pad above the hard toe (internal to the shoe) to create a soft, flexible metatarsal protector.
The intent is to retain the flexibility and comfort of a standard safety shoe with the impact protection of a metatarsal guard shoe. To qualify for sale to industry, these shoes must pass performance tests as outlined by ASTM F2413 for impact protection.
While these remarkable D30 metatarsal guards do meet the ASTM standards for impact protection, it is unclear if they offer the compression protection that a rigid metguard provides. In other words, they may perform well when something is dropped on the foot, but there is a question as to whether they offer added protection if slowly compressed such as a tire rolling over the foot.
The thin and flexible nature of the D30 material makes it ideal for protective clothing. Pads can be formed to protect almost any body part without adding significant bulk or weight to the clothing. D30 has been used in military, motorcycle, bicycle, football, baseball and other sports helmets. Industrial hard hats may be the next application.
The manufacture and sale of occupational safety products has become a huge industry. While prevention of the direct and contributing causes of injury must be our primary focus, personal protection as that last defense is vitally important. The producers of personal protective equipment are constantly improving these devices in an effort to offer superior protection and comfort.
Not so long ago terms like FR, 70E, AED and now D30 were not a part of our vocabulary. Calories referenced our food consumption – not our protective clothing.
Imagine what might be in our future.