D3O impact protection explained

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Made from a patented polymer who’s molecules flow freely at rest, yet lock together when impacted, D3O is one of the most exciting innovations in protective gear in the last decade. First used at the winter olympics in 2006, it’s only just begun appearing in motorcycle gear, most notably in Klim adventure touring suits and in Icon Stryker Field Armor. Its unique properties allow it to be unprecedentedly slim and flexible while still offering CE-certified protection, which we thought would make it perfect for our little project to make ourselves stylish, yet safe motorcycle jackets.

We’ve been playing with a whole mess o’ D3O protectors, from basic 13mm thick, contoured shoulder and elbow armor to the same equipped with hard plastic panels to protect from penetration to CE Level 1 and CE Level 2 back protectors.

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Explaining the way D3O works is really simple, even if I have no idea how it actually does what it does. It doesn’t go hard when impacted, the force is simply spread across a wide area. So you’re still getting good absorption. The active ingredient is actually a liquid that does turn hard, but, in its production form, that liquid is set into a foam that remains pliable. Because it can spread impact forces across a large area, it can afford to be thinner, absorbing the same amount of energy in a slimmer package than traditional armor or more energy if its the same size. The actual chemical makeup and sciencey stuff is like the recipe for Coke, a secret.

Check out these pictures of a CE Level 2 D3O Viper Pro Back Protector compared to a CE Level 1 Alpinestars Bio Armor Back Protector. At 18mm thick, the D3O protector is approximately the same size and weight as the Bio Armor and covers pretty much the same area. Yet, the D3O protector is CE Level 2, meaning it transmits approximately half the force to the wearer as the Level 1 Alpinestars. If you’re trying to build in protection without bulk, that’s simply amazing.

It’s not that the Alpinestars protector is a bad product. In fact, it’s the opposite, it’s outstanding in its affordability ($30) and comfort. That D3O is able to double the protection of an excellent product from such a progressive company is indicative of the possibilities this material offers.

Yet, there’s a reason I opted for Alpinestars Bio Armor in my Vanson AR2 instead of the D3O protectors. In the elbows and shoulders, the Bio Armor covers a larger area and, due to Grant and I’s limited sewing skills, the way more dense, rubber-like material of the Bio Armor made it easier to work with. In fact, we’re probably not going to end up using any D3O shoulder or elbow protectors in the project at all, it requires very specific placement because its quite small and a pocket (sewing thread through it would cut the material). Things that surpass our ability as sewing numpties.

D3O is still a young company and its products are still developing. While the material is simply amazing, the forms it’s been taking so far are a bit hit and miss. Rather than capitalizing on how thin and flexible the material is and expanding its area of coverage, D3O is making its protectors to fit into existing armor pockets. In that role, D3O doesn’t really excel. Traditional motorcycle jackets aren’t cut to take advantage of its slimness and, in that slim configuration, it doesn’t offer any more protection that standard, bulky armor. We’d much rather see far thicker armor that could offer increased protection in the same size as traditional armor for normal motorcycle jackets and entire garments developed around D3O to take advantage of its form factor. For instance, you could have it line virtually the entire forearm, wrapping almost the whole way around the arm, and it wouldn’t feel that different from a normal leather jacket or need to incorporate bulkiness in the elbows.

As it is, I’m using the D3O back protector in place of Level 1 protectors in my normal bike jackets to take advantage of its light weight, flexibility and added protection. I could do so much more if the other protectors would have been a bit larger. It’s our hope that, as the company matures and awareness of the material increases, they’ll work with gear makers to create jackets, pants, suits, etc that can take better advantage of what they’ve invented. This could change the motorcycle gear world if it’s done right.

D3O

  • Pete

    I have some D3O gear that I use when mountain biking and I had a big off while wearing it on Saturday. I can tell you that it worked just as well as my hard plastic protection despite being MUCH slimmer and more comfortable.

  • eric

    Is this stuff a one time use thinger? Or does it just get hard as it compresses and then releases after? Mystery science stuff I no understand, me SMASH!

  • Glenngineer

    I did some impact protection consulting for a major sporting goods/apparel company, and the looked at D30 but didn’t want to pay for it. They ended up using their own impact protection product, developed in house, and it is goddamn useless. They payed me an astonishing amount an hour and totally ignored what I was telling them.

    Impact protection comes from three places – distribution of force, dissipation of energy, and the introduction of a time delay in the application of force. D30 is the good shit because it does all three. The ‘hardening’ effect distributes force – the stiffened zone spreads the force over a greater area, lowering impact pressure. Force naturally follows the stiffest path. As it stiffens, it absorbs energy. Similar materials have huge hysteresis. The non linearity and viscoelastic/hysteretic effects both contribute to a impulse lag, stretching the impact time and lowering peak forces.

    EAR and Poron materials are both pretty good at this – I’ve tested both in actual product applications. I haven’t used D30, but it looks like it’d be head and shoulders better.

    • Kevin

      Yeah, what he said.

  • http://twitter.com/BuddyJesus Peter

    I want to replace the Knox stuff in my Corazzo jackets with this. Is there any way for consumers to get replacement armor? Their site seemed pretty useless for the general public.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

      Agreed. I found the back protector – the Viper Pro – but no way to actually buy it. Damn these insider moves.

  • carter

    Sounds like a classic non-newtonian fluid. I always knew that somehow, somewhere there would be a practical application for all those corn-starch-and-water experiments. Nerds rule.

    • frankieapples

      Word…as soon I I started reading the explanation I though, “Oh like Oobleck.”

  • Noah

    This reminds me of some excellent boxer-brief-type impact shorts that I wear under the leathers for track days developed by a dear friend of mine: http://www.zoombang.com/home.php

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

      Interesting gear. Most of the pieces of Zoombang gear seemed to consist of an array of impact panels rather than a larger single panel, so I wonder how well they actually perform in comparison.

  • http://mansgottado.tumblr.com/ gregorbean

    I’m picturing a form-fitting bodysuit made of this stuff. I’d feel a lot more confident being TOTALLY EXTREME!!!1! if I was wrapped in orange wonder material. Get to work smart guys!

  • http://www.urbanrider.co.uk UrbanRider

    The guy who developed this, Richard Palmer, was a couple of years ahead of me on the Industrial Design Masters at the RCA here in London.

    He developed it at college, we had the benefit of access to the labs (and drop testing facilities) of Imperial college.

    By my understanding the origin of it was ‘Silly Putty’. You remember the stuff you played with as a kid? Soft and gooey and goes hard on impact. How close the final formula is to that who knows.

    He probably drank in the bar with Mr Uhlarik, perhaps he can shed some more light!

  • jonoabq

    So the next question is where can I actually buy sheets of the stuff, individual (or pairs) of protectors, etc?

    • slowestGSXRever

      I REALLY want to know this. I’ve got a good enough sewing ability that I could probably put it into my jackets.

  • aristurtle

    I’ve got to get one of these back protectors and find a way to cram it into the back of my jacket.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

      HFL threatens to turn us all into tailors.

      • aristurtle

        It might come to that. My jacket has a pocket in the back for a back protector, but it’s shaped specifically for the brand of back protector that’s made by the same people that made the jacket.

        And they sell a CE1 back protector that fits in that pocket for some extortionate sum at a 1000% profit.

        So I’m hoping that a D3O CE2 pad will fit, but if not I’ve got some sewing to learn.

  • JC

    +1 to Jonoabq, where can we buy?

  • aadmanz

    Is that the same stuff BMW use in their gear? Because it sure looks like it and that stuff feels brilliant. I have put Forcefield replacement stuff in all my other rider gear.

    • David

      The BMW NP armor is the same orange color and the marketing material makes the same claims about being soft and pliable but stiffening up on impact. Seems like BMW would throw a d30 reference in somewhere if that’s what it is though…

  • Dean

    Wonder if you could make some custom sleeves to hold this stuff together, and then sew it into a jacket. Like a simple mini-pillowcase that would help you anchor the armor down?

    That might add more bulk and/or defeat the simplicity, but if you have the armor on hand, maybe it’s worth a shot.

  • Todd

    Any info on the lifespan of the D30 armor? I mean does it degrade over time and lose it’s effectiveness? For example is it only good for say 3 years and then needs to be replaced, or anything like that?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Nope, you can even put it in the washing machine at temps up to 40 degrees Celsius.

  • Earl

    I make custom leather motorcycle jackets and would like to try this stuff out–their website does not seem to offer retail–any leads?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Haven’t seen it anywhere.

  • AHA

    Anyone know how this compare to Nitrex http://www.evaglory.com.tw/en/showroom_4.html as used in Forcefield Armour? http://www.forcefieldbodyarmour.com/technology/
    That’s being touted as the industry leader at the moment.

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Awesome – I’m sold!