Back in March, the Penguins teamed up with Covestro and Carnegie Mellon University on a bold new initiative to make hockey safer.
Now that project - "Rethink the Rink" - is one step closer to reality.
Two CMU students, working all summer at the Covestro corporate campus in Robinson Township, have developed two rough prototypes for dasher boards that will be sent along next month to Athletica Sport Systems in Waterloo, Ontario.
Athletica will then build both concepts into actual dasher boards that can be tested at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry.
"For my perspective, these two very dedicated students have developed a workable design that has been validated through simulation, and we believe it can make hockey safer," said Jim Lorenzo, principal engineer at Covestro. "They have exceeded our expectations. We're very close to being ready to release to Athletica for them to mock up and deploy … and we're excited to see what comes of this."
The two students, Alex Duncan and Ian Suzuki, were part of a Rethink the Rink "Make-A-Thon" on the Carnegie Mellon campus during spring break in March. Approximately 20 CMU students, divided into five teams, came up with various concepts to improve the boards and make them safer. Duncan and Suzuki were then hired as summer interns at Covestro and have spent the past four months working with Covestro engineers and material science experts.
Bob Walker, head of Covestro's external communications, said that one of the prototypes is a retro-fit of existing boards, adding new materials and technology, while the second is a "high-end total redesign."
"One is simple and elegant, the other is more complicated," Lorenzo said. "We realize, of course, that this is a business with budgets, and we have to have boards that are easily implemented into rinks. But by pushing the envelope you can also come up with new, fresh ideas."
Duncan, 23, and Suzuki, 19, worked with physical materials but also developed virtual designs on computers.
"It's been awesome," said Duncan, who recently received his master's degree in mechanical engineering. "From the start of this program back in spring break, working with the Penguins and Covestro - and now Athletica - it's been an amazing learning experience for both of us. We're really excited to see Athletica build these and have the Penguins test them."
"It was great that we got a chance to communicate with Athletica throughout the process, because they made sure we didn't head down the wrong path," said Suzuki, a junior with a double major in biomedical and mechanical engineering. "The goal was to make the boards safer but also to maintain the integrity of puck play, as the pucks bounce off the boards."
Duncan, from Hillsborough, N.J., is a former football player at CMU who suffered a concussion during his career. Suzuki, from McLean, Va., played ice hockey growing up and still plays roller hockey. Both felt a connection to the project from the start.
"We were so fortunate to have such high-caliber CMU students working on this - highly diligent, highly invested," Lorenzo said. "They came to work every day determined to succeed in this challenge. We're very proud of what they've done."
Video: The latest update on Rethink the Rink