Despite the rapid development and proliferation of additive layer manufacturing, Haas explains how CNC machining offers just as much flexibility and speed
Nexx was the first manufacturer in Portugal to produce motorcycle helmets made from carbon fiber. These days, all the company’s high-end products use a mix of fiberglass, carbon and Kevlar, to provide an extra level of shock absorption and impact resistance. Composite helmets now represent nearly 60% of the company’s turnover.
Nexx’s wide range of helmets caters for all riders, whether they are riding a scooter to work or an enduro bike across Africa. According to the company, the thing all of its customers appear to want is ‘something different, but without compromising quality or safety’.
“We want people to see our helmets and know immediately they are made by Nexx,” says Helder Loureiro, the company’s founder and CEO (Top image). “Our business is driven by ideas and passion. To innovate, create new products and get them to market quickly is essential.”
Loureiro worked originally for another helmet manufacturer in Portugal, but grew disillusioned with the company and his role. As a result, he decided to quit and, with the help of three investors, launched Nexx. Founded in 2001 and based in Anadia, near Porto, Nexx helmets are already sold in 56 countries around the world.
“Since the beginning, the aim of the company was to create a premium helmet brand,” he says. “Making a quick buck was never on the agenda. Instead, we planned to reinvest and build the company.”
Sales were good from the outset. At the time, alternatives were often bland any color you like as long as it’s black or white!
“Our helmets were popular because as well as creating something unique, we focused on good quality and design, at a competitive price,” says Loureiro. “In a way, you could say we invented the fashion helmet. We attracted lots of customers, particularly in countries like France, where there’s a thriving motorcycle culture.” Riders in Europe, especially in cities like Paris, Milan and London, are perhaps the most image-conscious in the world.
Nexx’s early success enabled it to relocate to a new facility, which is already being expanded to accommodate bigger R&D facilities. The company has also invested in robots, semi-automated paint shops and precision machinery for the bigger factory. With the promise of financial help from the EU, Loureiro also decided to invest in the company’s product development department with the purchase of an additive RP machine to manufacture prototypes – a function that at the time was being outsourced.
“Using subcontractors to produce prototypes is not a satisfactory arrangement. We wanted to keep the new designs confidential and we needed to be able to try many different design ideas as quickly as possible. Using external suppliers made us vulnerable to delays, in particular.
“After some consideration, we found a suitable rapid prototyping machine and we were fully-prepared to go down the additive route. However, when it came to actually make the purchase, the distributor for Portugal and Spain had recently gone out of business. We reassessed. I didn’t feel comfortable buying the machine from abroad and have the training and support supplied from so far away.
“Around the same time, Haas Automation Europe ran a promotion at an exhibition in Portugal, which caught my eye because the price of the Haas machine was more or less the same price as the RP machine.”
“With the Haas CNC machine we can go from idea to prototype helmet within two months,” says Loureiro. “It means we do not outsource anymore; everything is done in-house. The machine is quick and we can try all sorts of different designs in the time it used to take just to get one. “
“Being able to make our own prototypes is very important,” added Luís Da Fonte, head of design at Nexx. “Without the Haas machine it would be impossible to realize the correct design in such a short period of time. We knew that the Haas machine would be the best solution as we can do bigger prototypes using the machine’s large table capacity than would have been possible using an RP machine. We also use the VF-2 for producing aluminum and steel molds. We could not have done this with an additive system.”
As early as 2003 Nexx started using different materials to enhance the brand’s ‘fashion’ appeal, such as leather, embroidery, metal inserts and rubber. The designs began a craze, which led to rampant sales. Nexxpro now designs helmets for many customer groups, including men, women, and even children. In 2014 the company won the renowned Red Dot design award for its Switx model, one of its most popular.
“Today, our number one market is Germany,” says marketing manager André Varandas. “But, other strong markets include France, Italy, Portugal, Brazil and the USA. Different countries seem to prefer different things: in Brazil, for example, they really love bright colors, whereas Germany mostly likes designs in black. We are very actively seeking opportunities in the Far East, in place like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Indonesia. The scooter markets in some Asian countries have enormous potential. Little by little, we are growing worldwide.”
Nexx is also hoping to leverage its exposure on the racing circuits of the world to boost its brand profile even further.
“We are intending to sponsor in the Superbike World Championship,” says Varandas. “We’re also targeting the Spanish championship, and we already have sponsored riders in the US. We’ve been in racing for about 3-4 years and we’re gradually learning more as we go.”
Today, Nexx sells 100,000 helmets a year worldwide next year’s goal is 120,000, all of which are designed and made at its site in Portugal. In terms of shape there are four types of shell: full face, open face, maxijet and dual sport. All molds and prototype parts for new helmets are machined using the Haas VF-2.
“The Haas is already working full time – between 9 and 10 hours a day,” concludes Loureiro. “It’s been problem free and the support and back up we receive from the Portuguese distributor (HFO AfterSales) has been superb. There’s no doubt we’ll need another CNC machine soon, and based on our experience I feel confident buying another Haas.”