How It’s Made: Bicycle Helmets

How It’s Made: Bicycle Helmets

A photograph and video history of how bicycle helmets are manufactured

In 2016, our team visited several bicycle helmet factories in China and learned about how they ’ re made. Photos and Videos from two different factories are featured in this article, both of which we visited in person in 2016.

The Design Process

Tens of millions of motorcycle helmets are made in China every class and making bicycle helmets is a relatively simple, but demand action. New designs are much sketched first, then modeled either by hand in very clay or using CAD software and milled in prototyping foam. These prototypes are tested for fit and looks .Sketching new helmet designs (left) and examining a foam prototype (right) Most bicycle helmets follow this basic construction form and have these three main components :

  1. A hard outer shell to keep everything together
  2. A compressible inner liner to absorb energy during a crash
  3. Assorted straps and pads to keep the helmet on your head safely and comfortably

The Hard Shell

There are several ways to create helmet shells, and choosing one depends on the substantial and construction of the final product. here ’ s a PolyCarbonate ( personal computer ) plate being made from a blank sheet on a Vacuum Forming machine .PC helmet shell being made on a Vacuum Forming machine The vacuum forming machine uses a custom-designed creature shaped like the inwardly of a helmet to form the shell. The blank tabloid of personal computer is heated, then vacuumed tightly over the vacuum cock to get its final examination form. Larger factories can make their own tool on site by milling it from solid blocks of steel, aluminum, or sometimes other materials. Each completed tool ends up being about the size of a mini-fridge .Tooling for three helmets being made at once with a CNC router (left) and Tooling stored in racks waiting to be used (right) other times, shells are made in more common plastic Injection Moulding machines — the same kind that probably made your toothbrush or earphone case. Thicker ABS shells for skate-style helmets are much made this way .Plastic injection molding machines

Shell Painting and Decals

Next, some of the shells are painted. The painting process is a mix of automated spray-painting robots and humans doing the loading/unloading with humans applying the finish touches .Blank helmet shells waiting to be spray-painted (left) and freshly-painted helmet shells (right) Some shells have more intricate designs that are applied on the raw material sheets before they are formed. These designs appear warped when they are flat but become proportionally-correct after they are shaped into a helmet shell .Workers applying intricate decals to blank PolyCarbonate sheets In other cases, brand logos are pad-printed or silk-screened onto new helmets .Worker using a Pad Printing machine to apply logos to helmets (left) and worker using a Silk-Screening machine to brand a frisbee (right)

The Inner Liner

Helmet liners are designed to take a score for you. Their lightweight aerated structure makes them able to absorb a lot of department of energy during an affect, protecting your forefront. Liners are most normally made from Expanded PolyStyrene, or EPS. Yes, this is the like stuff your modern television came packed in. Although more helmets are made with Expanded PolyUrethane ( EPU ) and other chemically-expanding foams, EPS remains the standard because it ’ randomness condom, reliable, and bum. EPS liners are made with hard-hitting steamer in specialize machines and joyride .Row of Expanded PolyStyrene injection moulding machines PolyStyrene pellets arrive at the factory loose, in outsize bags, and are treated with hard-hitting steam at temperatures up to 200 ° Celsius until they expand to fill a cast that bonds them in concert and shapes them into a upstanding helmet lining. Designers vary the thickness and density of the EPS to account for the helmet ’ sulfur supreme headquarters allied powers europe and vents .The Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) liner of a bike helmet — the small round dotted areas are escape channels in the tooling for the steam to make it’s way out of the mold as the Polystyrene is expanded to make the helmet liner

Straps and Pads

Straps are often sourced from a nearby specialize strap manufacturer and assembled on-site .

The nylon strap factory was down the road from the helmet factory. The specialization of sub-suppliers in industrial China is a good reminder that we live in a networked economy and the future of manufacturing is distributed.

Straps arrive at the factory in bundles, pre-stitched and with the buckles already in set.

Straps in many colors and bundles The inner comfort lining is frequently custom-pressed and cut on locate. These pads start off as layers of fabric and foam that are pressed and melted together with a template on a machine — similar to a table-sized George Foreman Grill making foam and cloth panini .Custom designed padded helmet liners (left) and the hot press machine that they were made on (right)

Robotics and automation

Like any modern factory, helmet factories employ a issue of robots to do simple, accurate, insistent tasks. After all, China is nowadays the worldly concern ’ mho drawing card in both production and pulmonary tuberculosis of industrial robotics .Industrial robots and humans working together Although mod factories employ automation everywhere, humans and robots much collaborate in the lapp spaces. Robotics companies are encouraging this growing paradigm by designing industrial robots as co-bots, or collaborative robots, like Baxter .

Safety and Quality

Of course all helmets are rigorously tested for a variety of head-sizes. The International Standards Organization ( ISO ) does not care if it ’ south pigeonhole, so it assigns common head-shapes to versatile regions around the world. For case, helmets designed for asian markets must be wider and shorter front-to-back, while helmets designed for the US market are narrower and longer front-to-back. This all ensures that the most people get the best equip possible with only a express issue of helmet sizes .Different regions have different head-shape standards required for testing (above)Various head-shape testing dummies Before approving a design for mass product, all new helmets must pass strictly enforced national and external standards. These tests involve crashing weights at high speeds into helmets to simulate impacts, cycling through extreme temperatures and humidity, and lastingness tests on components like straps and buckles .Test worker preparing a helmet testing guillotine (left) Temperature and Humidity testing equipment (middle) and Workers aligning a helmet for an impact test with laser sights (right) All units are inspected by hand and tested for a hardy construction, and even cosmetic imperfections are caught. The damaged units are either repaired or recycled before being packaged to leave the factory .Markings identify a scratched helmet before it’s packaged and shipped


This machine makes boxes automatically. The bosses said it does the job of six workers at once .Box-making machine Despite the occasional box-making machines, helmets are most much throng and finished by bridge player by workers in assembly lines. For the manufacture nerds reading this, all helmet factory assembly lines we saw were U-shaped .Assembly line workers finishing and packing new helmets possibly the most interest experience while visiting a helmet factory is walking along buildings the size of a football airfield filled with thousands and thousands of helmets in versatile stages of production .Helmets in various stages of production


ultimately, most helmets end up in a criterion embark container like this one outside our factory gate. They spend anywhere between 25 and 45 days in transportation system before they reach their final address . If you ’ re new to global logistics, it ’ s easy to overlook that containers are a intrigue invention that moved our company ahead by leaps and bounds. here ’ s a big podcast about refrigerate containers, their huge contribution to the global supply chain, and the woman that made them possible.

Picking out Prototypes

Using everything we learned, we picked out our darling go-anywhere all-city commuter helmet. We chose our design to have candid venting to keep your headway aplomb on flying summer rides, but it ’ mho reduce to fit over a cap for those harsh winter commutes . This helmet is made in one of the factories you saw in this article, adhering to the highest international safety standards. We worked to make it safe, lightweight, but uncompromising adequate to get knocked around strapped to your base or your motorcycle. Before it can be a Fortified merchandise, we ’ ra going to put it through its paces : we made 20 sample units, shipped them to our position, and for the coming months they ’ re going to be tested on the road. Do you have feedback or ideas about your ideal commuter helmet ? Get in touch.

Vlad is the COO of Fortified Bicycle. This post was reviewed to not reveal any confidential or proprietary information about the production processes employed by the companies featured in this article. Rights to the products pictured in this article belong to their respective manufacture or deal companies .

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