Take a Tour of the Nolan Helmet Facility

Ever wonder how helmets are manufactured? Dealernews recently witnessed the process used by the Nolan Group during a tour of the firm's production facility in Bergamo, Italy. The Nolan Group markets the Nolan, X-Lite and G-Rex brands of helmet, producing about 700,000 units per year.

Unlike many other helmet producers, the Nolan Group manufactures all of the parts for its helmets in-house. The company buys the raw material, transforms the material, manufactures the parts and assembles the finished product. "If you don't manufacture your own product, you lose contact and, ultimately, control of the quality of that product," says Ivano Prudente, sales and export manager for the Nolan Group.

Prudenti served as guide during our tour of the Nolan facility, which has four general production areas: one for interiors, one for shields, one for shells, and one that assembles the three products to produce a finished lid.

Production of a helmet's interior begins with Sunpor brand expandable polystyrene (EPS) pellets that are fed into a machine where a heat-and-pressure process molds them into helmet shape. From there, a squadron of five workers mates the EPS interior to various plastic accessories, such as the brim and trim tabs.

Prudente says the heat-and-pressure machine produces an EPS interior that varies in densities on the crown and sides to maximize head protection from the different impact forces that result in a crash.

In a different part of the factory, while the EPS interiors are being molded, a second squad of workers remain busy preparing shields made of General Electric's Lexan. The shields are stamped from large Lexan sheets by one machine, then the cutouts are fed into a second machine that heats and forms them into a traditional shape. Now shaped, the shields continue down the production line to be detailed, undergo treatment for scratch-resistance and obtain anti-fog protection and labeling.

The Nolan Group produces 3,000 to 4,000 helmet shells per day. Like the shields, the shells for the Nolan and G-Rex brands also are made of Lexan (X-Lite shells are made of composite materials in a separate facility). During this process, a machine heats and presses the Lexan beads for 60-seconds. The resulting shells are then conveyed to a de-burring station, a robotic sander, an automatic washer and a paint machine.

Thereafter, ready for graphics, the shells are brought into a room where a gaggle of steady-handed workers hand-apply each graphic before sending the lids to clear coating. The 30-minute clear coating process is the final step in the production of helmet shells.

The EPS interiors, shields and shells come together in a massive assembly area supported by up to 50 employees. Here, the workers carefully press the EPS interior into the shell, stitch in the liner, place the padding, double-rivet the chin-straps into position, and apply the shield pivoting mechanism, shield and finishing trim.

Shelf life of a helmet is a minimum of three to five years. Once purchased, the life of a helmet is dependent upon multiple factors, including impacts, moisture and temperatures.

Each batch of helmets is tested in-house before shipping. Tests are done daily, and between changes in model production and shell color. Tests are done to gauge adherence to both DOT and ECE standards. One test, the impact test, sends the helmet crashing into flat or angled anvils at 12.5 mph, or with 275 g's of force. Weighted head forms (shaped in European, North American or Asian forms) are placed within the helmet prior to testing.

A second test, the bullet test, sends a 10.6-ounce bullet into a helmet at 112 mph to gauge the shell's characteristics upon impact. This test is not necessary for helmet homolugation but nevertheless informs the Nolan Group of the Lexan structure's consistency. It coincides in frequency with the anvil test.

The Nolan Group's "premium" helmet, the X-Lite brand utilizes Kevlar, carbon fiber and glass composites in its shell, and the lids are produced in a separate, nine-year-old factory down the street from Nolan's main production facility.

Nolan's X-Lite shell production process is a guarded secret, and the company asked that no information be published and that no photos be taken within the plant.

Here's what I can tell you: Kevlar, carbon fiber and glass composite is bag-molded together, then the resulting shell is further shaped by a water-jet cutter. Imperfections are smoothed, the shell is primed and then sent to the other factory for paint. The painted shells are then transferred back to the X-Lite factory along with their coinciding parts, where they are then hand-assembled with the EPS interiors and their model-specific parts.

Nolan and X-Lite brand helmets are imported by CIMA International of Chicago, Ill. Dealers can obtain the helmets by contacting Parts Unlimited or Tucker Rocky Distributing.