Here is an account of the visit to the Faridabad-based facilities of Studds Accessories Ltd to gain a deeper technical understanding of helmet manufacturing
Road mishaps impact economic growth, and over 150,000 annual deaths on Indian roads cost the country’s economy between three to five percent of GDP every year. This is only second to Iran’s six percent. Out of this, over 60 % deaths are related to two-wheelers, which make helmets a crucial component in the rider’s safety. Auto Tech Review recently visited the Faridabad-based facilities of Studds Accessories Limited to delve deeper into its technical capabilities to roll out quality head gear systems.
Studds manufactures helmets under two brands – Studds and SMK – with over 7,000 variants across 45 models in the Studds range, and over 1,300 variants across 16 models in the SMK range of helmets at its manufacturing facilities in Faridabad. Cumulatively, the two plants are capable of rolling out 6.5 mn motorcycle helmets and 1.5 mn bicycle helmets annually.
The company is currently working with around 200 vendors for raw materials such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), polycarbonate, plastic granules, foam, fabric, and leather among others that are placed in one store. Another store is dedicated for buying out packaging items such as buckles, nuts and bolts. Studds also has a temperature and humidity controlled store to store decal stickers meant for helmet design.
Studds’ engineering team develops outer shell mouldings in-house in order to maintain better control over the production. The ABS is dehumidified in a hopper, which is subsequently passed with heat inside the barrel to convert them into molten state and is injected into the dyes for shell development. The excess ABS on the newly-developed shell is chiselled out soon after its development and transferred to the paint job line. The company also keeps experimenting with newer chemistries such as ABS polycarbonate nylon alloys; however, ABS still remains the preferred choice in most cases as it enables ISI standard compliance, said Sidhartha B Khurana, Managing Director, Studds Accessories Limited.
In a scenario of excessive demand, the company also works with trusted third party manufacturers, wherein the moulds developed in-house are transferred to third party vendors for a limited time period till the demand pressure cools off. The newly-developed shells are directly shifted to the paint job area for further processing.
The crystal clear polycarbonate is used to manufacture visor for helmets and is directly introduced into a hopper of an injection moulding process. The raw material is passed through a barrel maintained at a high temperature that converts the granules into molten state. In an average cycle time of 150 s, the entire injection moulding process rolls out visors, which are checked for set quality parameters at every station for silver streaks, flash or short filling. The visor moulding machine has been installed with robots to pick the newly-formed visor, chops off its excess material, and is subsequently placed on the conveyor for further processing. The excess material is immediately transferred to the recycling process for optimising raw material usage.
A helmet does undergo scratches during daily operations; thus, Studds also deploys anti-scratch coatings on the newly-formed visor. The newly-formed visors undergo an eight-stage cleaning process, which is followed by a silicon-based compound coating bath at fixed time intervals to ensure even coating and avoid flow mark formation. The visors are subsequently baked at 130° C before it is dispatched for assembly line installation. The entire cyclic conveyor process of coating takes around 6-7 hr of time for a single machine, which can roll out over 10,000 visors in a day. The company also undertakes metalising and sputtering processes for mirror coated visors as well as rainbow visors. Tungsten and molybdenum metals are evaporated using high voltage current inside a vacuum-based chamber to deposit metalised films on visors as per different model requirements.
Raw EPS is used to manufacture inner shell of the helmet against the market-dominated thermocol. EPS beads are subjected to varied pressure and steam for different cycle times to achieve variation in densities of EPS-based shells formed. The polymeric compound contains a lot of pentane; thus, EPS beads expand with heat and pressure. More the time the EPS is subjected to pressure and steam during this pre-heating stage, the EPS size expands and the density of the EPS shell goes down. Density of the EPS enables better testing of the product during the final stages; thus, it is defined as per the helmet model and variant during this stage itself, said Khurana. The pre-heated EPS is transferred to different silos (as per density requirements) for dehumidification and further maturing for 4-6 hr. This process leads to better fusing of EPS and prepares the same for the injection moulding process in the next stage.
The four-shape moulding machines are injected with EPS transferred from silos and passed with steam for EPS melting and fusing for shape building, cooled with water within the entire cycle time of 100 s. The developed shells are visually checked for shell shape deformation, under/over-making, and burn marks, among others, before they are transferred to the assembly line. Studds is also experimenting with newer materials such as EPS with composites, which will enable better product development, noted Khurana.
The newly-developed shells are subjected to a paint job process in which they are cleaned and dried before being transferred for base coat application. The company undertakes paint job manually and has also installed an automatic paint job line to increase efficiency. The paint job process is carried out in around six hours, which is followed by a similar time period of shell drying in an oven operating at 60° C.
Studds uses water-based decals as reflective stickers, vinyl stickers, and dome labels on the helmet outer shells. Against the normal dried vinyl stickers, water-based decals work on the surface tension methodology with any adhesive and stickers dipped in water to activate them and then applied on the helmet to withstand different temperature conditions. Post such operations, the shells are again transferred to the paint lines to apply either glossy top coat or matt-based top coat, which is dried again in the same oven used during base coat application.
The helmet and accessories manufacturer also has a section dedicated for foam & fabric cutting and PVC leather. This unit carries out a decent amount of automation for increased efficiency and reduce wastage. Using such developed parts and depending on the model, various helmet peripherals such as harnesses, chin straps and cheek pads are stitched in-house for robust product roll-out during the assembly stages.
Studds has also developed its test lab in a way that the product rolled out can comply with Indian standards and also European, Thailand, Philippines as well as the US standards. As many as 72 various tests are conducted here that include impact test for deceleration as well as four conditioning chambers for hot (50° C), cold (-20° C), ambient conditions as well as wet conditions. Further, the product is subjected to a salt spray machine for metal parts & visor testing using abrasion with sand to test diffusion of the visor after it has been impacted for optical clarity. The final product undergoes a retention and quick release test to maintain product robustness.
The company maintains two different assembly sections for its two brands. Where the shopfloor has one line operational for SMK, it has six more lines for the Studds helmets range. Depending on the model, there are various stations across the assembly lines deploying rubber trims, visors, EPS shell, harness, chin straps, cheek pads along with other child parts before the final product is dispatched for pre-delivery inspection.
Studds is currently present in 55 countries and exports 12 % of its production annually. The company plans to double its exports over the next two years and plans to penetrate into newer markets such as Indonesia, China after recently foraying into Thailand, Australia and Brazil markets. As the Indian government is initiating steps to make Indian roads safer, the implementation of helmet standards might soon be a reality; thus, a heavier demand for quality helmets will also emerge. Khurana has earmarked Rs 141 cr for setting up a new plant in Faridabad that will augment its current capacities by another 60 lakh units annually. Studds has recently invested Rs 29 cr in anticipation of a demand for helmets catering to electric bicycles across the world. The company plans to up its investments to Rs 250 cr over the next two years and subsequently launch camera-based helmets by 2020-end.
TEXT: Anirudh Raheja
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay