NZONE: Is it a protective brace or a piece of football equipment? It’s both. Bledsoe needed a partner to help tackle a big problem – knee injuries among down linemen who receive frequent hits to the outside of the knee. That’s when we got called into the huddle to bring integrated design, engineering and prototyping.


The NZONE sets the standard for prevention-only knee protection. Not only does it act as a “seatbelt for the knee”, this football-specific system has integrated thigh and kneepads, which makes for a low profile, efficient system. Designed asymmetrically, the frame’s lateral side is longer and more upright to absorb forces from a hit and protect knee ligaments, while the medial side is curved for comfort and mobility. The next challenge was to integrate a padding system that could handle the hits, but would also be removable for light or non-contact practice. A low- profile attachment system was used under each hinge cover to hold the kneepad in place. The thigh pad contains two separate components that are adhered to the front and backsides of the frame. The unique shape of the frame itself insures that the pad will remain sturdy and prevents deformation. 



An opportunity to test the brace in “live action” became available with a local high school football team. With a small testing window of preseason and practice, the prototype had to be made quickly and be of production quality. Putting our rapid prototyping skills to the test, REN 460 tooling board molds were programmed and CNC machined overnight to make the expanding urethane foam knee and thigh pads. The foam was chosen due to its ability to perform very similarly to the EVA the pads that would ultimately be used for production.

Over 200 pads were cast and the braces were assembled in just under 5 days from start to finish. The football team was able to wear the NZONE prototypes during practice and provide valuable feedback to our design team. As a result, final changes were made and the NZONE was released for production and distributed to athletes for preventative protection. 

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