Jabil teamed up with KAV Sports on made-to-order, personalized bicycle helmets that deliver a better fit for superior comfort and protection using custom-engineered materials and additive manufacturing. Recognized by Time Magazine as one of the “best inventions of 2022,” the KAV Portola helmet is made from custom nylon carbon-fiber material engineered by Jabil to meet exacting standards for performance and aesthetics.
“To fulfill our mission of saving lives, we needed to produce a better-fitting helmet that people would want to wear,” said Whitman Kwok, founder and CEO of KAV Sports. “For consumers to experience the benefits of customization, we had to overcome limitations in materials and manufacturing. Jabil knocked it out of the park by engineering a custom material that met stringent criteria and could be manufactured using 3D printing to create something really unique and special for the helmet industry.”
Innovating the perfect fit
Traditional bike helmets are made from injection-molded, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam and come in one to three sizes, which fall short of accommodating various head sizes and shapes. Moreover, typical helmets have limitations in stability, durability, and comfort.
While KAV wanted a novel material that was as light as EPS, the company sought superior performance in temperatures ranging from -15° C to over 60° C. KAV engineers evaluated more than 20 off-the-shelf materials, all of which failed to meet the company’s criteria for absorbing high-velocity impacts or providing sufficient stability under extreme environmental conditions.
KAV enlisted the help of Jabil to create a custom material that was stiff and strong yet flexible enough to accommodate both high and low temperatures. In addition to providing excellent energy absorption, the material needed to increase layer-to-layer adhesion for consistent performance and improved look and feel. A team of additive manufacturing engineers, chemists, materials scientists, and production experts at Jabil’s Materials Innovation Center in Minnesota created a completely new and customized material in just nine months that met all of KAV’s expectations.
Prioritizing polymer science
To achieve that milestone, Jabil applied comprehensive innovations in materials formulation, compound development, materials systems integration, and ISO 9001 Quality Management System certification.
“We take a polymer science approach to developing additive materials,” said Matt Torosian, director of product management for additive manufacturing at Jabil. “Jabil engineers materials that work with additive manufacturing processes in a repeatable manner to meet customer requirements and manufacture top-quality products.”
Jabil and KAV developed and tested nearly 30 iterations of custom polymer formulations and compounds before creating the proprietary nylon carbon-fiber composite that embodied all the necessary properties. Jabil’s extensive expertise and experience in materials processing, testing, and scaling proved instrumental in formulating the polymer, compounding the final filament, and attaining ISO 9001 Quality Management System certification.
KAV then completed the necessary validation testing to achieve certification in accordance with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). When KAV launched the Portola helmet featuring the new material in April 2022, the company asserted that the product not only met but exceeded U.S. CPSC safety standards for impact resistance by more than 25%.
Improving customer experiences
KAV’s custom material is available in grey, black, and white. A simple custom-fitting process paired with 3D printing enables the two-to-three-week delivery of made-to-order helmets. Production of these unique, energy-absorbing structures would not be possible with traditional manufacturing. Additive manufacturing also allows KAV Sports to reduce production costs and unnecessary waste.
With its highly productive collaboration with Jabil, KAV plans to expand its product portfolio and market reach by leveraging Jabil’s additive manufacturing prowess, global additive manufacturing capacity, and extensive supply chain capabilities.
“We have big ambitions,” said David Stoutamire, CTO and co-founder of KAV. “There’s no reason we can’t bring mass customization and a bespoke experience for protective gear across sports.”