Feature

Head banging

Photography Abhishek Kulkarni

Words Afzal Rawuther

 

One of the largest helmet manufacturers in the world – Vega – throws its doors open for an exclusive look at its factory

A year ago, I met with an accident. I was riding without a helmet. I was lucky to escape with just a scar on my forehead. To this day, I don’t remember how it happened. Before you jump to conclusions, no, I wasn’t drunk. But I suffered a blow to my head that ensured that I have no memory of the accident. A helmet has become something that I don’t leave my house without. Meanwhile hundreds of kilometres away at a factory in Belgaum, technicians work together to churn out thousands of helmets every day so that riders like me can be safer on their bikes everyday. So, when I came across a chance to visit Vega’s helmet production facility in Belgaum, I didn’t let it pass. Vega is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of helmets and their production facility is also similarly sprawling. The factories that Vega has have a combined output of close to 12,000 helmets every day, i.e 4.38 million human lives saved each year. Vega also happens to be among the only manufacturers in the world to vertically integrate their production process. Everything that goes into the helmet is made in-house at their facilities.

Helmets go through multiple stages of development before they make it into stores and numerous quality checks ensure that the safety of the rider is never compromised. The helmets begin their life as ABS pellets. The pellets are then melted and formed into the Helmet shell in an automated machine that churns out several shells every hour. A technician works with the machine scraping out the sharp edges of the recently moulded helmet.

At the same time, the EPS helmet liner is being produced that will be the part of the helmet that absorbs most of the impact in the event of a collision. Tiny beads of raw polystyrene go through a process that expands them into globules of polystyrene. These globules are then moulded to form the liner. Note that the liners are different for different types of helmets and head sizes, thereby necessitating multiple moulds and designs for the liners. Running water is used to cool the liners and the moulds. Different densities are found in different parts of the liner owing to the different requirements for crash absorption that each section has.

Just as we were being given a tour of the shell making process, we were met by one of the directors of the company. When questioned about his claims of the sturdiness of the helmets, he simply proceeded to garb one of the helmet shells and drop them on the floor. The shell bounced back and he then showed us the fact that the helmet didn’t even get scratched.

The helmet shell and the liner then move on their way for the sanding procedure to eliminate any surface imperfections and make them ready for the next step. The helmet shells now make their way to the painting room, where they are given multiple coats of paint. The paint is sprayed onto the helmets one by one by a bunch of skilled technicians. It takes each technician barely a few seconds to paint each shell. After the three coats are done, the helmets are then dried in a heated chamber. And finally these shells are covered in a UV resistant clear coat. The clear coat gives the helmets a glossy finish and also ensures that the helmets wouldn’t be scratched easily – a fact one of the directors aptly demonstrated to us by bouncing the shells off the ground.

High quality polycarbonate is used for the face shields of the helmets. The moulding process for the helmet shell and the visor are similar, with the only changes being the moulds themselves and the material used.

The inside of the helmet also has a fabric lining that is made with cotton and foam. The straps too are made at the facility.

All the components are then assembled together by skilled technicians before heading to the final inspection and are subsequently packed and are readied for dispatch. The helmets are tested at multiple stages throughout their production to ensure the highest standards of quality.

The facility produces basic helmets ranging from Rs 900 all the way to higher end models worth several thousand, all the while maintaining the same rigorous safety standards.

Later during the day, we had a conversation with Dilip Chandak, Managing Director of Vega Helmets. He had a few thoughts to share when asked about the recent boom in the helmet and safety gear industry, “We have been in this industry for 27 years now. In 1989, helmets wewre supposed to be made compulsory as per the new Motor Vehicle Act. Unfortunately, the helmet compulsion has never happened. Initially people were not accepting helmets. Awreness was not there. People slowly strated accepting helmets. Bike sales picked up. Social media and the big stars are influencing youngsters into using helmets.”

Speaking about their made in India helmets reaching international markets, he added, “At the moment we are exporting to countries like USA Canada, Japan. We have region specific brands. Countries like the USA and Canada contribute a significant chunk of our export revenue.”

I was lucky to have survived to tell the tale. But most without a helmet aren’t. Mr Chandak and his team at Vega has been making these helmets in an effort to make riding safer for everyone involved. And that is in itself commendable.

 

    

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