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RP Technologies helps Airhead to launch a revolutionary pollution mask

11 October 2021

Elliot, Harry and Alex met whilst studying Economics at the University of Bath and quickly became great friends. After graduation, they moved to London and fell in love with cycling as the best way to get around the city. As cyclists, they noticed that pollution was becoming a key issue and started looking for masks to protect themselves from pollution, however they couldn’t find anything that combined personality with real, research-backed innovation.

So, they came up with the Airhead mask – the unique pollution mask designed to help users move more and stay healthy. The mask is designed to protect people from particulate matter and irritants such as smoke, dust and pollen. 

The three entrepreneurs took the plunge by quitting their jobs to concentrate on Airhead full time and collaborated with Brunel University to create the innovative new pollution mask. To support their dream they launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to bring their idea to life. They set out to raise £30,000 and hit their target in just under four hours. Their campaign raised £315,511 and finished in the top 0.5% of all time most funded Kickstarter projects. 

With funding in place, Airhead appointed Bristol based product design agency, Realise Product Design. Realise finalised the product design for Airhead and spent time researching tool makers and injection moulders who offered low to medium volume production runs with fast lead times and came across RP Technologies.

RP Technologies is a UK manufacturer of aluminium injection mould tooling along with prototype and production components. Through precision engineering combined with a wealth of experience RP’s service offers a fast turnaround of mould tooling & low to medium volume plastic injection moulded components from its UK based manufacturing facility in the West Midlands.

Airhead and Realise decided to move forwards with RP because the company bridged the gap between rapid prototyping services (that are very quick but highly expensive and unsustainable for high volumes) and more traditional steel tool makers and injection moulders who have 3-4 month lead times. RP provided very quick lead times but still maintained quality and a personal service at an affordable price – exactly what Airhead needed. RP worked closely with Airhead and Realise offering advice on the component designs to ensure they were time and cost effective to manufacture. 

Unique design features

A unique feature of mask design is that no glue or solvent is needed, all of the parts clip together so the accuracy of RP’s tool making and moulding was vital. The idea behind this is to make the mask more sustainable and easier to recycle, as well as extending the lifespan of the product by being able to replace individual parts if required. The masks completely modular design means it can quickly be taken apart for easy, thorough cleaning.

There are seven different moulded parts that make up the main body of the Airhead mask. These are a mix of POM, polypropylene and TPE, depending on whether a rigid structure was needed or a soft seal to create an airtight seal against the face. 

Challenging manufacturing

All of the components that were tooled and moulded had their difficulties, in particular the three components seen below challenged RP’s capabilities. A close collaboration between RP and Realise Product Design during the tool design process ensured that high quality, repeatable mouldings were achieved in such a short space of time. Airhead had strong expectations for high aesthetically finished components to create a premium feel to their product, so this had to be considered within the tool design and moulding process.

1. The Front Cup moulding was probably the most difficult component to tool and mould in a repeatable way. The texture, fine wall thicknesses, deep draw ribs and side features all added up to potential issues. There were potential problems with polymer flowing into the honeycomb area, meaning RP needed to run comprehensive mould simulation analysis to ensure the part filled correctly. During moulding trials, RP quickly discovered that additional venting was required in certain areas of the tool to ensure the mouldings filled and were uniformly rigid. This venting alone caused issues with the part geometry meaning RP had to come up with some ingenious ideas to solve the problem. 

2. The Opening/Filter Seal was a complex component to tool and mould. There was a lot of consideration when designing the tool with regards the side wall features adding sliders into the tool was vital to ensure the features all formed correctly within the customers tolerance range. The tool also required additional ejection points across the part to ensure no damage occurred while de-moulding, which ensured the soft TPE wasn’t covered in pins marks.

3. The Nose Cup/Facial Seal required polished features to ensure the final component was very smooth and visually attractive as it’s one of the main components that is seen. It also needed to be flash and defect free as the component is in contact with the user’s face. The moulding process for this part was quite involved as the component is moulded around a solid, loose core insert, which is carefully removed by hand for each cycle. The loose insert was required because the geometry of the component was undercut and wrapped around the entire core. There was no other way to manufacture this part unless a complicated collapsing core system was used, which would have been extremely expensive and not possible within Airhead’s budget.

Once testing and development was complete, Airhead approved the moulded components. RP ran a low volume production run manufacturing 8,500 of each part to fulfil the orders received via its crowdfunding campaign, and to launch the sale the mask via the website.

Alex Smith, Co-Founder at Airhead, commented: “As a start-up, time and budget were incredibly important in successfully delivering the project. RP being based in the UK and making tools in house was a huge advantage to us. Communication was always quick and clear, there were no delays in transportation and the team clearly have a huge amount of experience so can create a quality product.

“Having Paul and the team to speak to about any issues, and their experience on hand to overcome problems, was a life saver and dramatically improved the quality of the product. It’s our first time ever creating a product and I don’t think we could have been in better hands. The team genuinely care about creating the best product and that’s a rare trait. They also went the extra mile in creating samples as quickly as possible and getting them sent to both Airhead and our design agency as soon as possible to support us with our tight timelines.”

RP Technologies aluminium tooling and injection moulding services have been the perfect solution to launch Airhead’s mask and fulfil their low volume production requirements. It’s fantastic to have been part of a project that’s seen a revolutionary new product being invented, designed, and manufactured here in the UK.

For further information about RP Technologies services and capabilities, please visit www.rptechnologies.co.uk.

For further information about Airhead or to purchase a mask, please visit www.airhead.cc.


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