Workshop Series – The Making of Nexx Helmets
I don’t know about you, but I often wonder how brands approach designing and manufacturing protective motorcycle apparel. It’s one thing to make a good looking garment, but to make something that can protect its wearer in an accident is something totally different. Of all the gear we wear it’s our helmets we value the most. For this edition of our ‘Workshop Series’, I decided to find out how a motorcycle helmet is made. To do this I contacted Ricardo Miguel and the team at Nexx to discuss their helmet manufacturing process.
Let’s start with the Nexx Helmets backstory.
NEXX helmets were born in 2001 at the hands of Hélder Loureiro and 3 promoters who, although young, already had a great deal of market experience. They shared know-how and passion for the motorcycle world. Based on his experience as Head of Design at another helmet brand, Hélder knew there was space for improvements as well as an opportunity for a new brand to compete in the international market.
Creating NEXX was not easy though. There were all kinds of obstacles. We had to battle with the typical Portuguese bureaucracy, a lack of skilled labour, acquiring capital (there is never enough), and untrusting suppliers with their inflated prices. Then to further complicate things, the challenges we faced due to the oil crisis that was felt after the Twin Towers in New York.
Where are Nexx Helmets produced?
Our helmets are made at our advanced manufacturing facilities. It is replete with robots, lasers and other ultramodern machinery. We combine these with our highly experienced researchers, designers, engineers and the hands of skilled craftsmen. By embracing trends in manufacturing automation and data exchange Nexx has created a “smart factory”. This helps us to have a significant reduction in time to market, flexibility, increased quality, and reduced energy and resource consumption.
NEXX Helmets is proud to be one of the last standing European manufacturers. Our helmets are produced 100% in Portugal and currently, the factory employs around 200 hundred people. Our “Made in Europe” stamp results in not only high-class head protection – it also means that social and environmental issues are respected.
When designing a new helmet where do you begin?
We always begin with our motto “Helmets for life”. The motto has a double meaning. Firstly to create a premium product that aims to be the ultimate safety helmet. Secondly, to create a product that will match your lifestyle.
Can you explain where the idea for the X.G100 came from and how it was developed?
We wanted a unique twist with the design of the X.G100 helmet. We added distinct curves, a stretched mouth with a wider chin piece. The idea came from an old racing helmet by NEXX. Looking at it, we started to imagine it a bit “rounder”. We developed a design that would differ from the rest of the retro full-face helmets on the market. unique elements included a signature chin vent, a clip-on shield and stylishly tailored leather interior. These all came together to give the X.G100 its individual look.
Once you have a design how do you ensure the helmet will meet safety requirements?
Safety is, of course, our primary consideration when our engineers and designers develop a new helmet. Once we have a clear understanding of the final concept for the helmet, we work on the helmet from the inside out. We begin to calculate the dimensions that the finished product has to have. These are based on the obligatory thicknesses of the EPS components, padding and other parts. This ensures that the helmet will be compliant with all the different world homologation norms. In addition to meeting regulatory certification, each helmet must meet NEXX’s time-proven design standards by being submitted to our in-house testing facility.
How are the first prototypes made?
The first step is to create a 100% handmade clay prototype. This allows us to have a better understanding of the project/product, and a chance to correct or improve things. Next, we start the 3D modelling all of the components of the helmet in a digital environment. We then use those models and our own CNC milling equipment to create fully functioning prototypes. Our facility allows us to do everything in-house so we have more flexibility to experiment with ideas and get new products to market quicker than ever.
What materials are used during the construction of a Nexx helmet?
Since we have 2 different types of shells in our collection, the beginning of the manufacturing procedure is very different. We use both polycarbonate and composite helmet shells. Both require technical expertise, manufacturing technology and a large capital investment, but the investment focus is different in each case. The composite helmet manufacturing process is a secret that we have invested a lot of time and resources into developing. We have created a special method for manufacturing these types of helmets. We use 2 types of materials in our composite shell manufacturing, both of them engineered and developed in-house.
One is the X-MATRIX technology, a process that combines multi-axial fibreglass, 3D organic fibres, kevlar, special aramid fibres and carbon reinforcement. The result is a super strong and lightweight shell. It’s 35% stronger for extension and bending resistance than normal fibreglass. The other is the X- Zero technology. This is a material based on Carbon Fibre developed by NEXX R&D engineers over the last 3 years. X-ZERO technology combines existing techniques with new techniques used in Aeronautical Engineering and top-level sport. This innovative process has several advantages over traditional methods. Firstly, it allows a shell with higher technical characteristics and gains in terms of weight and impact resistance. On the other hand, the best balance between carbon and major technical characteristics of the epoxy resin provides a smoother and rounder surface. We can obtain a more perfect surface finish which means fewer coats of varnish. The result is an outstanding looking, light and strong helmet, with more efficient use of materials and environmental sustainability.
What procedures are used during the construction of the helmet?
The procedure of manufacturing shells includes a lot of specialised and skilled handwork, with combined high-end technology. The polycarbonate shells manufacturing is all about working with high tech moulding machines. The raw polycarbonate material is fed into our machines, melted and pumped into a helmet mould. After the shells have been moulded they go through different stages. The composite based ones need to be cut and drilled before they go to sanding. All cutting is done by our water jet cutting robot.
After this, all the procedures are basically the same for both shells. They receive the painting, the decals and the clear coat. They then have to pass various stations to have the face shields, internal visors and other parts installed. During each stage of the process, every helmet is inspected by the operator to ensure quality. In the final assembly area, each helmet is inspected once again and the final parts are installed for the liner, chin guard and vent covers. At the end of all these stages, the helmet is wrapped, packed and put in a box with the manual and hang tags, ready for shipment to the customer.
What testing do you perform on a new helmet?
Despite our dedication to producing unique designs, safety and functionality play the dominant role. During the development of our products, we are constantly submitting them for in-house testing at our own laboratory. Every year more than 1500 helmets are destroyed during this process. When a project is nearing completion we submit it for independent certification to one of the world’s most respected laboratories, the IBSR in Belgium.
All our products are compliant with the ECE 22-05, DOT FMVSS 218 and NBR-7471:2001 homologations. In addition, intensive test rides are performed to improve the comfort levels in all types of conditions, roads and weather.
How long does it take to create a new helmet design?
Each project has on average 2 to 3 years of process development. At NEXX, we usually work 2 collections ahead.
What are some of the changes we can expect to see in Nexx helmet manufacturing in the future?
It’s always fun and hard to talk about where the next advancements will lead helmets, and just how far in the future they are. NEXX has a clear vision of the future – that’s why we created our own electronics department. We would like to elaborate, but for obvious reasons, we need to hide our game. We can say that a new dimension and “sense freedom” will be coming soon! All components will offer a more analogue and emotional experience, based on minimalistic design and refined high-quality detailing.
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