Company 3D Prints Elderly Crash Test Dummy


We often report on the automotive industry, and typically it’s the flashy new gadgets and features that get all the attention. And yet, when you think about it, there are millions of engineering hours being dedicated to the Herculean task of, well, just keeping you alive once you get inside of your vehicle.

And that means testing, and testing and, more testing.

Humanetics, a company that produces both crash test dummies and computer crash test models, is now using 3D printing to develop a better, more accurate dummy for one of today’s underrepresented demographic groups – the elderly.

Some 40 million licensed drivers in the U.S. are 65 or older and, since car crashes impact people differently, they set out to create a new crash test dummy that better represented elderly body composition.

The result is a dummy that mimics a 5-foot-3, 160-pound 70-year-old woman, with a fleshy middle, as it impacts the way the body absorbs impact from a seatbelt. A 3D printer was used to produce the torso, and the company is experimenting with new materials that are cheaper than the steel that’s typically used for things like dummy ribs.

According to Humanetics CTO Mike Beebe, the first attempt – a plastic-rubber compound – began to show signs of cracking and wear after about 20 crash tests.

Adaptive Corporation, a product lifecycle business, suggested Humanetics consider a material called Onyx, developed by Markforged, which is described as “a super-strong, carbon composite material reinforced with Kevlar fibers.” So far, they’ve shown to be far more durable than the steel counterpart, and cost about the same to produce.

Humanetics says the 3D printing approach means a reduction in labor and assembly costs between 40 and 60 percent. Their next endeavor might be an attempt at breaking down the crash test dummy to get a better feel for how accidents impact specific organs.

For example – currently, the company builds dummy parts in segments, like a thoracic or abdominal area. Cheaper dummy production means they could use additive manufacturing to create individual organs and get a feel for how these are affected.

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