It’s a real-life Iron Man story: a billionaire is terribly injured in a way that doesn’t kill him, but leaves him in constant pain and risk of further health problems, so he turns to technology of the highest order to protect him and save his life. It’s not a comic book though; it’s what the engineers at McLaren Applied Technologies did for a client, and it’s fascinating.
Men’s Health has the story of Client X, an unnamed billionaire who sought McLaren’s help dealing with catastrophic injuries and life after the surgeries to deal with them. The man, whose name is known only to seven people at McLaren, somehow ended up with a badly damaged ribcage and sternum, leading to unending pain and risk of injury:
Even the little things hurt; an errant elbow from a crowded cocktail party, a snug seat belt, toting a heavy backpack, prolonged sitting in a stiff chair. Outwardly, you’d never know his plight. The uber-wealthy never wish to appear weak, either publicly or amongst elite peers, so Client X kept his issues shrouded, every wince turned into a smile and he went about his day.
The answer led him to McLaren’s health and wellness outfit, which is actually the company’s fastest growing arm, the story says. They worked to build him a kind of vest of armor that would function as a ribcage, protecting his vital organs, and being totally discreet underneath his shirt.
Mechanical engineers, composite engineers, designers and other members of the team from a variety of expertises came together and began broadly thinking about the challenge. Various ideas and design mockups were sketched on Post-It notes or on a white board.
[...] Some initial ideas looked like an exo-skeleton rib cage, others more like nesting plates of body armor, and then someone tossed out the idea of a shield. “That design resonated most because we knew it could transfer the load of an impact quite a distance,” Coburn said. For example, traditional body armor fits flush against the body and dissipates a blow or impact locally, relying on your rib cage to diffuse the bulk of the force. It lacks the structural stiffness to sufficiently transfer the energy from a load to where McLaren would want. “We needed a hit to chest to send the load into Client X’s lower, functioning ribs on the left and right and then up to the manubrium, at the top of the sternum,” Toon said. “A rigid shield could accomplish that.”
You can watch the video below to see how they did it:
The body shield is made from natural and artificial fibers, including Zylon, which is also used in Formula One cars. It did more than just restore the man’s body to its original durability, the story says; its failure threshold ended up being “a 150 Joule impact event, effectively dropping 5 bowling balls, or 75 pounds, onto your chest from a few feet up.” No wonder they called it Project Invincible.
Since then, Client X has been reportedly over the moon over the device and how it has improved his quality of life; he hopes to get back in a race car soon and has referred other wealthy clients to McLaren. It’s an interesting new business model to supplement the supercar business.
Go on over to Men’s Health to read the full story.