My small company has been working on a new type of crash energy absorption that replaces the typical buckling steel method. While buckling behavior doesn’t work well, in terms of controllable crash energy absorption, all of the transportation industries still use this method, because up to now, there hasn’t been a cost effective alternative.
Shock systems that use this new crash safety technology, are being call SEM (Solid Ejection Material) shocks and basically SEM shocks use the high pressures that are needed to initiate the flow of polymers (e.g. plastics and elastomers). These are the same type of pressures that are present in the injection molding process of plastic parts, where the pressures can range from 2,500 psi up to an incredible 35,000 psi. With such high flow pressures, relatively small parts, such as piston areas, can still provide very high restraint load performances. Lastly, the SEM shock technology has applications in every field of transportation, plus multiple safety applications in the U.S. Military and in Homeland Security.
From the business side, I have met with high executives from a number of companies; such as… Quixote, Energy Absorption Systems, Trinity Industries, ArmorWorks, Nissan, Universal Safety Response, Ford (made presentation on 2/3/11), General Dynamics Land Systems; plus some government organizations the National Academy Science’s Transportation Research Board (for the High Speed Rail-IDEA study grant), and the Army’s/Marine’s EMIP (Expedited Modernization Initiative Procedure) group.
Even with the current safety improvements in airbags and crash avoidance systems the Automobile Industry still needs to improve the crash performance of their current vehicle designs. The proof that more safety improvements are needed, is supported by a 2000 NHSTA report, consider the following excerpts…
Motor vehicle crashes cost the United States a total of $230.6 billion in 2000… This sum… reflects the lifetime economic costs of 41,821 deaths, 5.5 million nonfatal injuries, and 28 million damaged vehicles… Safety belts saved $50 billion in costs by preventing 11,900 deaths and 325,000 serious injuries. Still, the unnecessary costs resulting from people not using their belts came to $26 billion…
The prevalent use of SEM shocks in the vehicle body of course won’t solve all of the loss of lives, injuries and vehicle damages, since some vehicle crashes are just too severe. Although, if SEM shocks absorbed more Kinetic Energy, in a controlled manner, then another $50 billion in savings is surely doable.
I’ll close with the thought that for the past 100 years the transportation industry has used the crushing and buckling of steel structures, as their primary crash energy absorption method. The SEM shock technology can greatly improve the crash performance of vehicle structures, but to date, the auto industry has concentrated on airbag protection, to improve the interior safety of vehicles, and more recently “smart controls” to have the vehicle brake automatically, etc.; but the auto industry has not figured out a way to improve the crash performance of the vehicle body (the SEM technology will greatly improve the crash performance of the vehicle body), so industry ignores this problem.
Images: (Click on thumbnails to enlarge)