(COLUMBUS) - In Dorel Juvenile Group's showroom on State Street, a few feet from where workers assemble high-tech child safety seats, the future of child protection sits on a small, round pedestal atop a thin, metal base: a body-hugging safety cocoon with a shell made of black carbon fiber.
Metal base: a body-hugging safety cocoon with a shell made of black carbon fiber.
Our partners at The Republic say, the foam inside the shell is pock-marked with hexagonal holes, which Dorel's designers have determined best allows the seat to deflect the energy around the seat's occupant during a crash.
The inspiration for the next generation child safety technology rests in front of the pedestal: the cockpit of an IndyCar.
The futuristic Dorel seat is a showroom piece and a prototype, designed at the Columbus facility. Virtual and actual crash tests, as well as other analysis, and computer analysis of the seat's structural integrity and the forces transferred to the seat's occupant will determine which of the components find their way to mass production and onto shelves at Walmart, Target and other retailers.
More than 30 designers, analysts and technicians work in the Dorel Technical Center for Child Safety, which Dorel, the Canada-based parent company of DJG, unveiled in 2010 as part of a $3.6 million investment.
Before committing to making Columbus its research-and-development headquarters, the company thought long and hard about where to invest, said Julie Vallese, vice president of public affairs and strategic communications.
Many companies were moving operations offshore, she said, but Dorel decided that it would be able to design and manufacture better products by housing all parts of the process, from concept to delivery, under one roof.
The cubicles in the facility's design area are clustered in a beehive structure, with low walls and lots of open spaces, colorful walls with large photos of children, and areas to sit and chat.
Vallese said the layout and design foster open communication, the sharing of ideas and creativity.
David Amirault, director of product marketing, design & brand management of child restraint systems, showed off one of the company's more recently developed safety features: AirProtect.
The device, a piece of foam in a plastic bubble, is placed on both sides of the child's or infant's head. It essentially works like an "always-ready air bag," Amirault said.
Think of it as an air mattress that stuntmen jump into when they fall from a tall building, Amirault said.
He laid an AirProtect cushion on a table and punched into it, demonstrating that the force applied on the cushion is absorbed by the cloth and the slow release of air from the plastic bubble.
Amirault said the United States has no standards yet for how child safety seats should stand up to side impact crashes -- though Dorel believes those standards are coming.
Cars are tested in front, side and rear crashes, but child safety seats only from the front.
About 25 percent of crashes involve an impact from the side, said Vallese.
"They are the most violent and have the greatest potential for severe injury," she said.
With AirProtect's design, one in three side-impact deaths could be avoided, Amirault said.
Rajiv A. Menon, director of engineering, advanced technologies and computer-aided engineering, said many of the ideas are tested first in the virtual world.
He pointed to a monitor that displayed a simulated frontal crash. A computer analyzed the crash's force and broke it down into thousands of tiny areas of the seat. Up to 200,000 areas can be tested and displayed at once, with various colors graphically showing the severity of the pressures.
The company takes inspiration for its designs from many industries.
Menon said that for the race car-inspired seat, Dorel partnered with a company that had experience in IndyCar racing. The project generated the body-hugging child seat shell. In a side-impact crash, Menon said, a closer fit will prevent the occupant from significant side-to-side movement, and therefore reduce stresses on the child's spine.
Prototype designs also can be subjected to actual crash tests at one of the three test sleds in the same facility.
The roughly 3,500 annual tests are recorded with sensors and cameras that capture up to 1,000 frames per second. Replays are shown in the test lab on a large monitor, while sensor data is overlaid with government standards to see, for example, if the dummy remained within regulations for head and chest movement.
The forces that come into play in a recent 30 mph crash test: The child dummy was exposed to a force of 23g, which increased its weight to 600 pounds.
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