Within his first 30 minutes on the job at an aluminum factory in 1999, metalworker Michael Buckman inhaled so many noxious fumes he was sick with bronchitis for three days. As he recovered, Buckman wondered whether a commercial welding helmet could have filtered his breathing air. “I didn’t see anything out there like what I was thinking about,” he says. So he set out to build the WindMaker: a helmet that can prevent lung damage.
WindMaker draws fresh air from behind the helmet, pushes it through a HEPA-rated filter, and then blows it toward the front, cooling skin while preventing fog on the glass faceplate. A fan near the chin helps expel air, blowing away toxic smoke in the work zone. LED lights on each side of the faceplate illuminate the welding job, while a thick shroud deflects sparks.
Several companies have expressed interest in licensing the helmet. Before anyone can sell WindMaker, however, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health needs to extensively test its air-filtering abilities-a costly process that requires consumer-ready units. If the device lives up to its claims, the convenient combination of eye, heat, spark, and respiratory safeguards could motivate more welders to protect themselves, says Shawn Gibbs, an occupational health expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “And that increased use is something welding needs,” he says.
Buckman already has ideas for high-tech add-ons, including wireless communication devices, solar panels, video cameras, and heads-up displays. Whatever futuristic features make it into the final helmet, Buckman is confident it will deliver on safety. “I got hurt on the job,” he says. “I had to go through that experience to design this.”
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