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New foam technology could benefit medical devices and PPE

27 May 2015

Foam plays a critical role in making products both comfortable and safe. But can it be transformed into something that provides significant performance gains?

Chad Zeng has developed a novel foam that can be used in a variety of ways, such as creating better protective helmets and more comfortable prosthetics (photo: Florida State University)

Changchun Zeng of Florida State University’s High Performance Materials Institute (HPMI) believes it can, and his new, high-performing auxetic foam is proving the point as it heads to the marketplace via a license agreement with Auxadyne LLC.

“We know what is not working with current products and technology, and what it is going to take to make it better,” says Zeng. “For example, the socks that amputees currently use to attach prosthetic devices do not adjust to limb shape and volume, creating lots of problems. My invention solves those issues.”

Part of what makes Zeng’s auxetic foam so novel is its ability to get thicker, rather than thinner, when stretched. In practical terms, this counter-intuitive behaviour, totally opposite to that of conventional foam, leads to many enhanced material properties, including a better and more comfortable fit that adjusts on-the-fly.

Zeng’s auxetic foam has its roots in a multi-year, multi-million dollar project with the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA Innovation Initiative project was aimed at addressing the shortcomings of current prosthetic socket systems through the development, testing and delivery of 'Socket Optimised for Comfort with Advanced Technology' (SOCAT) prototypes.

“Auxadyne’s initial focus is going to be medical device bracing and pressure relieving applications, as well as protective sports, military, law enforcement and first responder equipment,” says Joseph Condon, president of Auxadyne LLC.

“As we market to these key industries, we will also be involved in a collaborative effort with the HPMI to develop a next-generation prosthetic sock based on auxetic foam that will improve the quality of life of our amputees.”

The sports equipment industry, in particular, could take advantage of the new foam technology to improve the impact absorption and overall comfort of the different protective gear that athletes must wear.

Condon anticipates an immediate benefit to the medical device and personal protective equipment (PPE) industries while the collaborative project for the development of the new prosthetic sock is under way.

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