Lifting the lid: A new £40 scan claims to reveal hidden helmet damage after an accidental drop
For the first time ever, a company is offering a service that claims to be able to scan your helmet’s shell for hidden signs of damage or degradation.
Before, if you accidently dropped your lid there was no way of checking if the composite fibre shell had been weakened, leaving manufacturers’ only safe course of action being to recommend replacement.
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This left riders with a conundrum: fork out to replace a lid that potentially wasn’t compromised, or risk continuing to ride with a helmet that potentially was.
However, new British venture – the Helmet Inspection Company – are now offering a service that they say could bring about an end to this safety dilemma.
Using a non-destructive technique, the company’s £39.99 scan claims to reveal damage and defects beneath the outer surface of the shell which are invisible to the naked eye and they say the results will tell you if your helmet is still fit for purpose.
It’s all the brainchild of Aberdeen biker Martin Slowey, who hit upon the idea last year when his brand-new helmet took a tumble from the seat of his Panigale. "It’s a gut-wrenching feeling," Martin told MCN. "Having just spent hundreds on a new lid only to have to replace it because it might be damaged.
"We’re all told that once a helmet’s been dropped, no matter from what height, that it should be replaced, but I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to examine the shell to see if it had suffered any damage. But it was true, and no such service was available, short of cutting the helmet in two."
This realisation put Martin on the path towards finding out more about non-destructive testing and he soon discovered a technique that was home-grown in the UK: holography. "It involves using a laser to create a 3D holographic image of the helmet from multiple inspection points – this is our baseline," Martin explains.
"We then systematically move around the helmet adding a small amount of heat – only a couple of degrees – to the surface. In areas where there’s a defect, the heat will cause the composite to expand and contract at a different rate to the rest of the shell.
"Our instruments – 100,000 times more sensitive than the human eye – detect these movements and feed the info back to the software which displays it as an interference pattern."
This technology has been used for many years in aerospace, nautical and military applications, and is commonly used for the regular testing of the composite hulls of lifeboats and submarines, but this is the first time that it’s been used on the shells of motorcycle helmets.
An MoT for helmets
The company say that their service could also be used to extend the service life of a composite lid beyond the manufacturer-recommended five years. "We’ve tested customer’s helmets as old as eight years and passed them as fit to wear because the scan showed no defects to the shell," says Martin.
"You could think of our service as like an annual MoT for your helmet, just send it to us or take it to one of our drop-off points at a dealership and if we give it a pass on the inspection certificate then it remains fit to use at the point we tested it.
"Every lid that comes to us gets an NFC sticker applied to it, which is a bit like an ID tag for that helmet, then when we see it again in the future, we just scan the tag to bring up that lid’s previous test data."
The firm scanned one of MCN’s lids – a five-year-old Shoei X-Spirit III which had been used for over 10,000 miles and dropped once – and passed it as still fit for purpose.
Only skin deep
With the scan assessing the outer shell only, what can the Inspection Company’s assessment tell us about our helmet’s other vital component, the EPS lining? "We firmly agree with manufacturers that the EPS has a vital role to play in the event of an impact," says Martin.
"However, our service is designed to determine the integrity of the outer shell, which is the first line of defence for a rider. Under normal use, it is unlikely that there would be any impact damage to the EPS without identifiable damage to the outer shell.
"Thus, an intact outer shell, would, by default, suggest minimal impact damage to the EPS. That said, the EPS is vulnerable to any number of environmental, chemical and age-related degradations, including sweat and cosmetics.
"Recently, manufacturers have been adding elements to help riders identify damage visually, such as painting a black coating over the lining, which will show the white underside as it degrades.
"This should be noticeable when you are removing padding for cleaning. We are also giving thought to how we can help safely identify EPS-related issues in the future."
What do the industry say?
Although the Helmet Inspection Company’s service offers riders with previously unobtainable information about the condition of their helmet, the industry still advise caution when considering wearing an old or dropped lid.
MCN contacted SHARP, the Government’s independent helmet safety scheme, who said: "Neither SHARP nor the DfT are aware of any assessment of the efficacy of such testing techniques for this application or evidence of the benefits of an annual helmet test.
"Motorcyclists should ensure their helmet remains fit for purpose and should consider a visual inspection before every use."
Stuart Millington from Moto-Direct, the UK’s Arai and AGV importer, added: "The performance of both the shell and the EPS are crucially important to how a helmet performs in an impact.
"It’s very difficult to check the condition of the EPS, as not all brands have black-painted EPS coatings on the inside, nor is it possible to see the back side of the EPS closest to the inside of the shell.
"For this reason we would not recommend customers rely on a test like this and instead would reiterate that if your helmet has taken any impact then it’s always best to replace it."