Cold winter months in a motorsports shop opens up gaps between jobs and delivery of rare, expensive vehicles to work on when one must consider weather and road conditions. I’ve had the idea for some time to build a one-off custom welding helmet for myself. This idea primarily went along with my obsession for modifying everything and putting my touch on my immediate surroundings and belongings. Being a huge Star Wars nerd, I didn’t need to look too hard for inspiration, so when I found the time in January, I built an “out-of-this-world” face shield. Little did I know what the fallout would be. I’ve always been known for creativity, but it was focused in the racing and motorsports industry. Once this creation saw prime time on the Internet, I left the motorsports bubble and was rapidly propelled into an entirely different universe.
I laughed off this recent phenomenon and the Internet viral fame of the helmet. I figured this would die out within days, and the calls and emails would stop. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The demand grew to the point that I could not say no to the requests. PlebaniBuilt was formed overnight. The website domain I had retained for my metal artwork, custom car builds, and history in the motorsports world became the central hub for my custom welding helmets.
While I was struggling through spring and summer to keep up with demand, I knew that all this buzz had to carry over into a broader range of industries. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show held in Las Vegas would be the perfect stage to solidify the buzz. There was no question that I wanted to share this stage with no other than the automotive juggernaut, Mishimoto. Why, you might ask? The answer is rather simple but maybe unknown to many. I have had a long history and great relationship working with Mishimoto over the years in the motorsports and racing industries. Being a veteran attendee of the SEMA show since 1998, I convinced Mishimoto to allow me to build two display helmets for its booth space. I promised a huge buzz surrounding the build because there has been nothing like it, at this show or ever! It was an overwhelming success to say the least, and the demand and buzz got even bigger.
The success and impact from the SEMA show was noticed firsthand by Mishimoto, a company that knows how to bring “cool” to market. The collaboration between PlebaniBuilt and Mishimoto continued in the form of the new corporation named Arkane. We know who is behind Arkane, but what exactly is Arkane?
Arkane is the company that will bring style to the personal protective equipment (PPE) market.
How could I take my custom one-off concept and make it obtainable, stockable, and repeatable? I started by drawing a lot of pictures to explain what’s in my head for others to understand. Its similar to explaining the theory of relativity to a pet. Eventually, all involved were on the same page, and an action plan was set in place. Behind the scenes I went to work; during any given hour of the day or night I could be found plotting schemes and plans to come up with a solution for this exciting challenge.
It’s been about a year since the original and famed helmet took the internet by storm, and the buzz and demand are still strong. People are watching for what I will make next, requests are pouring in, and PPE companies are taking note of what I’ve been posting. It was time to take my ideas from paper and turn them into a 3-dimensional object. Dead of winter in a new but unfinished facility with minimal creature comforts makes using frozen clay difficult. No problem! Space heater and coffee sped up the process. Nothing slowed down my creative process, and the concepts were coming to life.
Technology! 3D scanners, 3D printers, 3D prototypes! Mishimoto uses the latest technology for rapid prototyping, so naturally Arkane will be at the forefront of this new tech to keep up with the creative ideas pouring out of my head. I’m able to make a sketch, sculpt the concept in clay, scan the concept into CAD software, and 3D print the concept in the real world. This process cuts my concept-to-creation time down to days instead of weeks. I can research and develop parts in the environment immediately, identifying issues well before anything is in production.
The concept is viable; parts either functioned as intended or were tossed by the wayside. We started to refine the concept and process as ideas evolved day by day. Unique solutions were found for each problem that arose at every step in this evolution.
In testing the theory and parts we planned to use, I jumped at any chance to fabricate for Mishimoto’s needs. It’s a perfect segue to put Arkane prototype gear to the test. The more unique the situation, the better. Anticipating possible problems well before they happen is big for me in development, going back to the racing days. Solving a potential failure on a racecar well before it fails in competition creates a greater chance of winning. Identify the weak link before it breaks; it’s a code I carry into Arkane products.
2015 was the year I really learned about plastics, materials, composites, epoxies, headgear geometry, weight offsets on the human head, and more. I had to learn it and learn it fast, and I took that trial-and-error playbook right in to Arkane. Coming from the motorsports industry, I knew that lighter is better. This is especially true if you have to wear a helmet all day, but you also need strong protection. My carbon fiber hoods were a smash hit; they are light and strong, and they look cool. But, they are expensive. (Everyone loves carbon fiber until they have to pay for it!) While it’s still an option for Arkane products, I needed to explore alternatives. We have a standardized list of acceptable materials and their safety ratings, but that was not good enough for me, as I wanted materials to exceed the minimum requirements. We have analyzed many materials from other industries to determine if they exceed standard protection specs. But fancy laboratory tests and guys in lab coats aside, I take pride in conducting my own “tests,” jumping at the opportunity to break something by any means possible! Fear not, these will be posted on an ongoing basis.