Carnegie Mellon University

Alex Bram (far Left) with his teammates

March 22, 2022

Bram “Rethinks the Rink” for Hockey Player Safety

While other students were headed to warmer climates for Spring Break, CEE student Alex Bram took a decidedly icier approach to the time off—spending it in a competition designed to make professional ice hockey a safer sport. Bram participated in a week-long “Rethink the Rink” make-a-thon, now in its fifth year.

The event challenges college students to take an innovative approach to solving a complex issue regarding sports safety. This year, students focused on the interfaces between the glass and dasher boards that separate the hockey ice from spectators. Their work will help to prevent player injuries that result from hard contact with the area where the glass and dasher boards meet.

“My education here has given me experience with the engineering process and taking inspiration from the things around me to create solutions to real-world problems.”

Rethink the Rink is a collaboration between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Covestro, Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering, PPG, and Athletica Sport Systems. Students worked in teams of four at CMU's TechSpark and had hands-on coaching throughout the process. Bram said that he chose to participate because was looking for a fulfilling project that incorporated his love of hockey with his desire to learn and make a difference.

His team researched then created a presentation and prototype for their proposed solution. Bram explains that his group decided as a team how to prioritize and assign duties. “Because our team had a diverse set of skill sets, this was extremely effective” in keeping things moving forward,” he said.

The experience also allowed Bram to gain new knowledge of material science. As he moved through the week, he was presented with several glass options to work with—provided by the Penguins and Covestro.

“It gave me a taste of designing real-world solutions because our design had to balance the importance of player safety, fan visibility, puck behavior, scratch-resistance, overall strength, ease of cleaning, ease of replacing a broken board, cost, and ability to take down and store the boards for non-hockey events.” Weighing all these factors, while choosing from a number of different materials, proved both invigorating and somewhat daunting.  

The team landed on a polycarbonate material as its proposed solution. Bram explains that they called their solution “flexiglass” because it’s more flexible than acrylic and allows the force of a collision to spread out. The material is also scratch-resistant and easy to clean. 

In an effort to further soften collisions, the team discussed adding an additional layer of foam—and consulted with Covestro on available options. They recommended called Bayflex, which is available in different densities but is perhaps best known for its use as a shoe cushion. After experimenting with Bayflex, the students found that it met their goals and incorporated it into their final prototype.

During the final presentation to representatives from the Penguins, Covestro, PPG, and Athletica Sport Systems, each member of Bram’s team took turns showcasing and explaining the intricacies of the final product. Bram demonstrated how the Bayflex reduced impact force, as well as the ease with which the glass could be replaced should it break or otherwise fail. The team even proposed a dual use for their prototype–built-in sensors that could provide immediate feedback on how much force was applied during a hit and push that information out for the crowd to see.

While the team didn’t take the winning spot, they were awarded 3rd place—Best Prototype and received positive feedback from the judges. Bram added that the experience proved to him that his education has prepared him to participate in challenging work that can make a larger difference in the world. “My education here has given me experience with the engineering process and taking inspiration from the things around me to create solutions to real-world problems.”