At SafeGuard Armour, we are always striving to improve and evolve our range of body armour. When it comes to protective vests, there can be no complacency. At our research facilities, our team of experts is constantly testing the latest para-aramid fibres and UHWMPEs to advance the capabilities of our products.
Our collaboration with universities has proven invaluable to maintaining our status at the forefront of armour manufacture. The exclusive layering system that we employ in our hybrid solutions ensures that we can offer thinner, lighter, and more flexible armour without compromising ballistic protection.
We spend a vast amount of time examining and redeveloping our external carriers. The user is our priority when designing our products. By experimenting with innovative ergonomic styles and original cooling systems, we can produce armour that offers optimum comfort over periods of extended use.
We believe that our development team has manufactured, and continues to create, the most advanced, most wearable armour on the market.
The research and development of body armour can largely be split into two areas: making materials lighter and thinner, or finding new materials altogether. The former allows vests to be more comfortably worn, and provides more freedom of movement. Protection can also be increased if materials can be made thinner and lighter, simply by increasing the amount, effectively keeping the weight of the armour the same but increasing its protective capacity. The other aspect of R&D is to use new materials with different properties to create armour, but the aim is largely the same; creating bulletproof vests that can be worn comfortably for extended periods. In finding new materials researchers often turn to surprising places for inspiration, taking their ideas from everything from trees to fish.
LIGHTER AND THINNER ARMOUR
The development of lighter and thinner armour is a top priority for most manufacturers of bulletproof vests and bullet-resistant materials. The most restrictive aspect of body armour is its heat retention and weight, both of which can make for extremely uncomfortable situations, especially when the vest is being worn in hot or humid conditions. In cold temperatures body armour acts as an insulator, keeping the wearer warm. In hot or humid climates, however, body armour will dramatically increase the temperature of the wearer. DuPont, the manufacturer of Kevlar, is constantly researching ways to create lightweight versions of Kevlar to go into bulletproof vests, but research into the carrier is just as important. The carrier is essentially the vest part of a bulletproof vest, into which bullet-resistant plates/materials are inserted. Developing a lighter and more breathable carrier will make the wearer much more comfortable, and can help disperse heat and moisture. SafeGuard’s Stealth vest for example utilises CoolMAX technology in the carrier to move heat and moisture away from the body.
Another area of research in making body armour lighter and thinner is using the same materials but in different ways. For example, researchers have studied the scales of fish and other creatures in an attempt to create new ways of using Kevlar. This concept of using the natural world in technology is called ‘Biomimetics’, and has been used to create Velcro and even early aircraft. Scaled armour is hardly a new development, and takes its inspiration from medieval suits of armour that copied nature to make scaled armour and lobstered gauntlets for example. However, the increased accessibility of 3D printing has allowed researchers to create large models of fish which allows them to better understand the makeup of their scales. A better understanding of this ‘natural armour’ allows more flexible and lightweight armour to be made that remains strong and tough. Looking at the way materials are formed and utilised in nature has provided exciting new opportunities for the development of body armour.
The research being done into new bullet-resistant materials often borders on the fantastic, conjuring up images of science fiction. However, these materials are fast becoming viable products for body armour manufacturers. The most fantastical possibly the use of plant matter in creating ballistic-resistant materials. Wood pulp is used to create Nanocellulose, which has very similar properties to Kevlar. It is lightweight, flexible, and extremely strong, which of course makes it an excellent candidate for bulletproof vests. The added benefit is its fairly simple manufacturing process, which requires much less specialised equipment than creating other materials. However, it is currently quite an expensive process, and there are concerns over its environmental impact.
Just as exciting is research into liquid armour, which again plunges the depths of sci-fi technology. However, it is fast becoming a tried and tested material, as a company called Moratex in Poland has created a liquid called Shear-Thickening Fluid (STF) which has tremendous potential as a bulletproof material. This liquid behaves differently from Newtonian fluids as it hardens upon impact, dispersing energy over a large area. This naturally makes it ideally suited to body armour. This is compounded by its low indentation upon impact compared to Kevlar, meaning it will not only stop a bullet from penetrating the vest but will also cause less surface damage and bruising caused by the impact of a bullet. The company behind STF claims that they have eliminated 100% of the threat of injury to the sternum. This material is also said to form much lighter ballistic inserts for vests, making it ideal to be worn as body armour.
Perhaps seen as less fantastic, but no less impressive, is research into Graphene as a bullet-resistant material. Graphene is a sheet of single carbon atoms bonded together in a honeycomb shape, which gives it an incredible strength-to-weight ratio. Graphene works as armour by stretching at the point of impact before cracking outward across the material. While these cracks are one disadvantage of the new material, they can still absorb a far greater amount of kinetic energy than current materials. Using multiple layers will also increase the protection offered; sound waves travel three times faster through Graphene than through steel, meaning the layers behind the initially impacted layer will also dissipate some of the energy, effectively slowing the projectile even more.
While these new materials may eventually offer a much thinner and more effective form of body armour, they have yet to be properly utilised as body armour and are certainly not nearing the mass production stages yet. As such, many companies choose to focus on making current materials lighter and thinner, and materials like Kevlar remain the best option for bulletproof manufacturers.