Table of contents
Matter of the mind: There are specially stored injection molds for each helmet model.
Mr. Robot’s helping hands accelerate automated mass production.
Inner shells made of foamed polystyrene (EPS) roll off the belt every minute.
Diamond fever? Wrong: clear polycarbonate granules as the raw material for visors.
Fine tuning: the employee grinds surfaces by hand.
Water features: fiberglass helmet shells are cut to size at 3000 bar.
Art works: Only those who are particularly sensitive dare to come up with some designs.
Control is better: In the Nolan laboratory, many spot checks are on the agenda.
A tour of the helmet manufacturer in Italy
Anniversary: 40 years of Nolan helmets
Nolan factory tour in Italy – How are helmets made
You are kindly invited to a helmets factory tour in Italy and then you just buxt out of the factory halls. No question about it, that was rude, but there were good reasons for the outbreak.
Bella Italia. Actually nice here.
The summer sun is shining, no, it’s popping. In your mind’s eye: a casual beach bar, hot Italian chicks by the pool or at least a creamy latte macchiato in the shady street cafe. Instead: Well-ventilated, but still a bit stuffy halls, the lulling smell of glue and varnish, and pressing, pounding, pounding, screeching industrial noises fill your ears. Work is done here, production takes place here, you can see it, hear it, feel it in every cell of the body. Outside it is brooding at 33 degrees, inside hardly less, and the engineer in the in-house test laboratory explains why and where what is done on the helmet. Everything is well thought out, everything has meaning and purpose, and the whole thing is admittedly extremely interesting. But damn it, even the first lap through the production line cost a lot of energy. Having to concentrate on residual force values, special injection molding processes or newly designed automation processes – phew.
There are motorbikes in the yard. How easy would it be to take a break now? Up on the trestles, out of Bergamo. Here, in the middle of the northern Italian economic center around Milan, is where the Nolan group is based. This includes the helmet brands Grex, Nolan and X-Lite. Nolan is celebrating its 40th birthday this year and took this as an opportunity to open the factory gates to representatives of the press.
There is actually nothing to hide, rather one is proud to show that they are probably the only major manufacturer in Europe who still makes their helmets in-house down to the last screw. After all, more than 400 local employees would be able to make a living and there would be no need to migrate to low-wage countries, which would contradict the philosophy of the tradition-conscious company. At least that’s what the public relations man claims. Honorable, if the promise is kept in the long run. At this moment, when the machines are rattling happily, that is very believable.
In the background stands an elderly man. White hair, glasses, a reserved smile. When asked what his job is here, the man replies that he works as a consultant and that he had been in charge of production for a long time. – How long has he been working for Nolan? – Since 40 years. – Look, be there from the start. – Yes, that’s right, he is the employee with personnel number one, he explains and warmly shakes hands: Domenico Maggioni – but only Domenico, please. Numero uno yawns briefly and then reveals that he would much rather ride a motorcycle than tour the factory, after all, he already knows that inside out. This year he has barely collected motorcycle kilometers, back problems. Otherwise, however, he drives all sorts of passes and places up and down in the southern Alps every Saturday: Stilfser Joch, Maloja, Splugen, Sankt Moritz, Bernina, Livorno – if he has a good run, he can cover up to 500 pure Alpine kilometers . As a day trip, mind you. The 68-year-old is becoming more and more personable.
Old men gossip: With Domenico’s buddy Giuseppe Bonfanti (71, left) around 20 Italo motorcycle treasures from the 1950s and 1960s are always enough to talk about.
When he suggested trying to escape from the company premises, his eyes shine mischievously: why not? The ignition key jingles in your hands, so go ahead, get through the middle and quickly make the bend. With the rental motorcycles, you first go through the industrial area along boiling hot asphalt ravines. Heavy traffic, young people – probably without a driver’s license – on screaming scooters – apparently without an exhaust pipe – push their way through. Here Italy, recently the country of safety vests and strict non-smoking areas, is still used to it. Good this way. Domenico is heading for an even older piece of Italy half an hour later: A church from the 15th century with an attached winery invites you with nice, small restaurants. The Nolan man raves about the sparkling whites and whoops, the glasses are already served.
During the wine rest, Domenico remembers the first days at his long-term employer: Lander Nocchi, the company founder (incidentally, the first two letters of the surname and the first three of the first name resulted in the brand name Nolan), was looking for a technician to set it up in 1972 production in Bergamo. Fridges, household appliances – that was what Domenico had to do with until then, but these did not appeal to him, and the material polycarbonate, which Lander Nocchi used to make windshields from and which he now wanted to use in the helmet business, exuded little charm. But as a keen motorcyclist, he simply signed from the gut. So even before the factory buildings were built, he was Nocchi’s first man. Few helmet manufacturers were able to produce large quantities in the 1970s, and the demand for good, safe helmets outstripped supply at the time. The northern Italian company relied on an injection molding process suitable for mass production right from the start, so it developed quickly and splendidly. Domenico did his job as head of production well and reliably, not only seeing the orders grow, but also the number of employees. The Nolangruppe sells its helmets worldwide, and this fills employee number one, born and raised in the region, with pride, because even after so many decades, every helmet still has a piece of his heart and soul attached to it. In 1972 they produced just under 25 helmets a day – and only on request. Then, in the 80s, mandatory helmets were introduced in Italy and the market boomed. Currently, despite strong competition from Far Eastern cheap manufacturers, around half a million helmets roll off the production line in Bergamo every year, explains Domenico and puts on his flip-up helmet to continue the journey.
Next tour destination: another piece of the past. Domenico is heading for a housing estate, turns into a side street and stops in front of a garage door. He disappears behind the house next to it, a few minutes later he and another older Signor come back, gesticulating and chatting cheerfully. Giuseppe Bonfanti (71) is a friend and always worth a visit. It goes without saying why, when the host opens its hallowed halls and displays collector’s treasures from the 1950s and 1960s: Aermacchi, Gilera, Mondial, Moto Morini and an original works racer from motorsport legend Giacomo Agostini. Yes, he has already got to know him personally, says Domenico, as have other racing drivers. That can’t be avoided at work, because the sports drivers come and go at Nolan’s house. While he previously lectured objectively and soberly about production figures and company history, his eyes are now shining.
Here, between these fine dream machines that come from a past when Domenico was inspired by the spirit of motorcycling, here, in this garage at his motorcycle buddy’s, he comes to life every time. Recalls his first Guzzi, raves with humble pride about the Gilera Saturno he owned when he started at Nolan. Four decades of Nolan: For Domenico this is more than just a professional vita. This is not just limited to injection molding motorcycle helmets from plastic granulate. He emphasizes that he has always been in demand as a person. When, for example, the warehouse of the then German importer Edmund Buhler in Renningen burned down in the 1980s – a grand catastrophe – and many open dealer orders would inevitably have led to the business ruin of Buhler, Domenico, as production manager, gathered all the available people in Bergamo to move in to be able to deliver 2500 helmets to the German company as an emergency rescue in a hurry. Such actions naturally weld together and explain to a certain extent why the man with personnel number one still does not want to think about his well-deserved retirement despite his age. Just as he doesn’t want to give up motorcycling, even though the bones don’t really want to participate any more.
Domenico Maggioni (68) is Nolan’s longest-serving employee. He knows every corner in the production halls and as a touring fanatic he knows almost every corner in the southern Alps.
Time flew by, not a second of boredom. Somewhat clumsily the restless retiree tries at some point in time to turn the damn heavy loaned BMW from 1600 (normally Domenico swings around with his Yamaha XJ6 Diversion) on a gravel parking lot, shortly before it tips over he catches the load, tirades of ranting in Italian come softly from the helmet. It goes over winding mountain roads through the hilly hinterland to Bergamo back to the Nolan headquarters. Hopefully nobody noticed the little escape from the factory tour … But when rolling in through the factory gate, a few colleagues are already standing there and grinning: “Ciao Domenico, run away again? The others are already waiting. “
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