RUSSELL ATHLETIC CARBONTEK
The designers at Russell Athletic decided to scrap the entire shoulder pad manufacturing thought process four years ago and start from scratch. What evolved from a collaborative process with automotive safety experts, NCAA Division 1 equipment managers and kinesiology labs is the Russell Athletic CarbonTek System with OS Technology.
THE MANUFACTURers at Russell Athletic noticed a hole in the push for increased safety on the football field in recent years as concussion awareness moved to the forefront.
Football apparel companies and universities placed a greater emphasis on manufacturing safer helmets that met rating standards and four-star systems. But the manufacturing of safer shoulder pads didn’t seem to be a priority.
“There was no standard, and we knew we could make something markedly different,” said Sarah Gholston, VP of Merchandising for Russell Athletic. “We explored some testing and made a conscious effort to stop and look at the protective industry as a whole.”
The designers at Russell vowed to move away from hard plastic and uncomfortable, unsafe pads and buckles. They enlisted the help of Auburn football team equipment manager Dana Marquez, as well as experts in the automotive industry and Richard Brandt of Sports Science LLC.
In 2014, Russell Athletic released the CarbonTek System with OS Technology, built with carbon fiber for power and speed. The shoulder pad system comes with an OS Technology compression vest, high performance carbon fiber exoskeleton and military grade buckle system.
The first layer, the compression vest, is made of automotive grade foam and performs significantly better than standard EVA foam. The design holds the padding close to the body for maximum range of motion and features odor management technology.
“The shoulder pads only do the work when they’re tight to the body,” Gholston said. “With the compression vest protection directly against the body, it won’t move around.”
The lighter foam allows players to play faster, and the ventilation system offers thermo regulation to prevent overheating and hydration issues.
The high performance carbon fiber exoskeleton is constructed of aerospace grade carbon fiber, which offers improved impact dispersion compared to plastic pads. It is molded to fit the OS Technology compression vest and offers an average of 10 percent reduction in weight.
“It comes in two pieces, and where that is so important is that we didn’t have to use a bulky system to create the arch over the shoulders,” Gholston said.”
Finally, the military grade buckle system is specifically designed for a secure fit with no unnecessary bulk or risk of injury.
Prior to releasing the CarbonTek System on the open market in 2014, the innovators at Russell Athletic worked closely with former New York University physics professor Richard Brandt of Sports Science LLC to develop a shoulder-pad testing method for impact and dispersion. After testing several should pad systems throughout the industry, the CarbonTek System with OS Technology compared favorably.
“He extrapolated hit impact, and we compared our entire system,” Gholston said. “What we found was our shoulder pad dissipated impact at a much greater rate than our competitors.”
Russell Athletic also conducted a field test with players at Auburn. The shoulder pad system’s performance on the field matched what the design team had seen in the lab.
“The players were saying, ‘I know I’m getting hit hard, but I can’t tell exactly where.’ That backed our testing. It allows for faster recovery on game day and the days after big games. The field tests showed us players felt lighter; the shoulder pad system was easier to carry. That’s important in the third and fourth quarter.”