‘Rossi’s helmets are made here’

Published: 27 November 2014

MCN recently jumped on a charabanc over to Italy to visit the AGV helmet manufacturing plant at Mavet, near Padua in the north of the country. Having met with Luca Bertolo, project leader for AGV’s top-line helmets, who guided MCN through the process of building a top-quality helmet:

The mould

The shape of the shell is dictated by the mould, which is machined from metal. The design of AGV’s top-line Pista, Corsa and GT Veloce, with a chinbar that tapers to an aggressive point, means an additional section needs to be placed in the mould. The mould for a fibre-shelled helmet is not as expensive to manufacture as one for an injection-moulded plastic shell, but the human input in making a fibre shell means the overall cost is higher, hence the steeper price for the finished helmet. AGV’s plastic-shelled helmets are made in the Far East and India.

Fibres

Sheets of fibre are pre-cut to the designed shape for each model and are laid inside the mould. An identification chip is placed inside so the machines used in each process can instantly recognise which model of helmet they are working on, and staff can scan it at any point to check information. The range-topping Pista GP has an all-carbon-fibre shell, while the Corsa and GT Veloce shell material is a composite of carbon, aramidic and glass fibres.

Resin spreader

This machine runs on a track above the moulds, moving from one to the other. It reads the shell’s ID chip and automatically distributes the correct quantity of resin for that model of helmet.

The bag mould

By inserting the pink bag into the mould and then creating a vacuum of a pressure of 5.4bar (78psi), the bag pushes the mix of fibre and resin to force it to adopt the shape of the outer mould. The mould is also heated to 69°C and then the shell is left at that heat and pressure for seven minutes until the fibres and resin have bonded and taken on the outer shape. Carbon shells are left for longer, taking 12 minutes, because a different type of resin is used. “We have 14 moulds, which can produce 30-35 shells in a day. Two people work across seven moulds,” says AGV’s Luca Bertolo.

Water jet machine

After being weighed to ensure they’re within tolerances, shells are prepared for trimming and for cutting of the visor aperture, vent holes and the like. This is done by a robotic water jet machine. It reads the shell’s ID code and automatically cuts away the excess material and the required holes, with a jet of water at an incredible 3200 bar of pressure (46,412psi).

Time to prime

Once the finished shell emerges from the water jet machine, it is checked for weight tolerances. “The machine knows what the shell should weigh and if it is out by 40g or more then it is rejected,” says Bertolo. Those that make it through go on to be primed for paint, again by a machine that reads the ID chip. After weighing and visual checks, any high spots are rubbed back, or low spots are built up, by hand. “For racers like Valentino their helmets now go to their personal painters, who do their designs,” says Bertolo. “But their helmets come from the same moulds as everyone else’s.”

Base coat

Shells are painted, with either a base coat for graphics or the main colour if it’s a plain helmet. Pista GPs, which have carbon-fibre on display, go straight to the decals and lacquer phase. The decals are water transfers like those used on plastic model aircraft. Every employee in this area is female. “We find women are much better than men at this work,” says Bertolo.

Assembly

Once the shell is complete, it is weighed and checked for visual imperfections. The shell then moves to the helmet assembly line, where a specialist applies the rubber base and visor trims and then a three-person team fits the EPS (expanded polystyrene) liner, strap, comfort liner, the visor and its mounts. Any stickers, such as ACU Gold approval for UK-bound helmets, are applied and the helmet is bagged and boxed.

MCN’s insider

Luca Bertolo has been the project leader for AGV’s top-line PistaGP, Corsa and GT Veloce helmets since 2011. He also deals with AGV’s racers, including Valentino Rossi. AGVs are made at the Dainese-owned Mavet helmet factory in north-eastern Italy, which also makes Dainese ski helmets and motorcycle lids for other brands. 40,000 helmets a year are made at Mavet – including Valentino Rossi's.

You can see a video of the production process here.