With assistance from the NASA-funded Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), SportStar, a manufacturer of high quality athletic equipment, has solved a nagging technical issue, thereby enhancing the quality of a key product and improving safety for its customers.

SATOP, administered through the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, provides free engineering assistance to small businesses with technical challenges through the expertise of the program’s 50 Alliance Partners, made up of aerospace companies, universities, colleges and NASA field centers involved in the U.S. Space Program.

SportStar’s Paul Schiebl takes pride in designing quality athletic equipment used in many major professional sports. “Our equipment is used on the fields and in the locker rooms of the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and National Hockey League, where equipment managers and players demand the best gear on the market,” Schiebl said.

Always looking for ways to elevate his already high standards, Schiebl wanted to change the design and materials of a football helmet chin strap. “Our product had a weakness under certain stressful conditions,” Schiebl said. “While our chinstrap outperforms all other chinstraps in independent lab tests, we wanted to upgrade our product, allowing for better impact resistance and greater structural integrity. We had to find someone with expertise in materials and design to help us make those modifications.”

Seeking a solution, Schiebl turned to SATOP. After learning about the program from company research, Schiebl decided to ask SATOP for help by submitting a Request for Technical Assistance (RTA). SATOP Texas Project Engineer David Braun paired Schiebl’s RTA with Sheila Warren, Quality Engineer at SPACEHAB, a SATOP Texas Silver level Alliance Partner located near the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Warren examined the design and materials used by SportStar. “They had a small area on their football helmet chinstrap that would occasionally crack,” Warren said. “Getting hit quite frequently in a typical football game, this tiny area can become stressed at an angle of impact, causing the helmet to become loose.”

Understanding Schiebl’s need to control costs while at the same time solving the strap issue, Warren helped SportStar gather research on the proper materials needed. “As we looked at many different types of plastic, we realized that the problem was actually a design issue caused by a sharp angle on the chin strap. It wasn’t very obvious,” Warren said.

In describing the plastic shaping method of injection molding used to create the strap, Warren emphasized the importance of avoiding sharp internal angles in its design. “We realized that the plastic’s internal angles were too sharp and needed to be rounded,” said Warren.

With SATOP’s help, SportStar was able to provide recommendations and identify the best plastic for the helmet strap and remove the sharp angle in the strap design, thereby enhancing its strength and providing additional safety to the football players who wear the company’s equipment.

“SATOP has helped us redesign and improve a part of our product. It’s great how a small company can have access to SATOP when they normally might not have this type of knowledge and expertise available to them,” Schiebl said.

“SATOP gives engineers in the Space program a chance to lend their capabilities to help small businesses,” Warren said, “And it gives the average business owner an economically feasible opportunity to resolve a technical issue.”