One of the more recognized Simpson Performance Products is their helmets.
This part of the tour was the most interesting to me. Jaime Piña, Plant Maintenance Manager, was very helpful in showing me all of the various processes, taking time to answer my questions.
These heavy, solid nickel 2-piece molds is where the process of making Simpson helmets starts.
First a uniform layer of a gray gel is sprayed inside the mold. This will harden to form the eventual smooth & later painted outside surface of the helmet shell. Once this gray lining has dried & cured, a number of layers of different grades of fiberglass, carbon fiber (or a special combination of both) are laid into the mold shell with resin.
As the fiberglass starts to cure, the entire mold/shell is placed in a prepared plastic bag. The air is removed from the bag & the whole bag assembly is kept under suction. This is the make sure the helmet shell properly picks up all the various contours and ridges of the mold, to make the helmet surface imperfection-free.
Next in the process is the removal of the nickel mold from the new shell. Jaime was explaining that this is a forceful process requiring numerous hand delivered blows from rubber mallets. Apparently these take quite some effort to separate, since the shell is so well adhered to the mold.
All throughout this tour I was struck at the amount of true hands on, craftsman-like labor that was involved. Mechanical assists & technology were implemented where they saved unneeded human labor. But the necessary handiwork shows in the quality of their product.
The newly freed helmet shells have their eye ports & other necessary openings routed out, using special jigs.
Next, the helmet shell is properly sanded, cleaned & a thorough coating of gray primer is applied. These shells are now ready for paint. This is where they start to form their unique personalities. All sorts of solid, metallic & unique colors can be applied.
After paint, the bottom edges & eye port have a rubber edge beading applied. It finishes off the edges nicely.
One of the really different colors is what Simpson calls Rattlesnake: Jaime calls it ‘motor oil’ because of the different colors it will show, depending on the viewing angle & the light source – it’s an intriguing multi-dimensional color!
For those helmets that have vents, the mesh is hand cut & applied on the inside.
At this point the helmets are waxed & buffed with a DuPont compound material, not unlike that used on fine automobile finishes. These helmets are really shining now.
The only exception is the matte finish made popular by NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Now the serious business part of the helmet is fitted & attached to the interior of the shell. There are bins full of different sized foam liners, followed by different shapes & densities of proprietary rubber foam.
They have a special machine that cuts the different patterns of foam rubber, like an industrial-strength cookie cutter.
Many of these foam pieces are bonded to a gray or black fabric. Then they are attached with a special hot glue with a much higher melting point that your typical craft hot glue, up to 300°F.
Before the helmets are packed & boxed for shipment to their new owners, the appropriate visors, HANS (or other neck bracing device) fittings are attached.
One more wipe down and into the boxes they go.
Tomorrow, Racing Ready will finish out the plant tour (Part 3), showing where the helmets are tested & Snell certified, and give an overview of their well-represented product selection, in their company store.