Hywel Jones with plate made of lightweight ceramic composition. Credit: Richard Hanson.
From the United Kingdom comes a story about what is being described as a new, lighter-weight body armor material composed of advanced ceramic materials. Although prototypes made from the material are still being subjected to full ballistic trials by the nation’s Ministry of Defense, the innovation is already starting to get considerable attention and gained at least one major award.
According to reports from several sources, the weight savings for the new armor may be as much as 15–30 percent compared to armor plates of equivalent performance — a benefit that typically translates either into more frequent and ease of use for those wearing the protective devices, or an opportunity for additional armor panels (or “kits”).
I haven’t been able to pin down the exact materials used, but it is being generally described as being a combination of several ceramic systems, including a carbide, a nitride and a number of oxides, “forming a novel, strong, hard but light ceramic composite.”
Leadership for the R&D work behind the new armor is credited to two individuals: Hywel Jones who works in the Materials and Engineering Research Institute at Sheffield Hallam University, and Anthony Pick, a ceramic consultant (Keram Tech).
In a story that appears on the UK-based The Engineer website, Jones is quoted as saying, “What we’ve done is develop a composite based around silicon carbide, but [we’ve been] playing some clever games with the composition, and we’ve added some other ceramic material in there as well. We came out with a plate that has a density of 2.75-2.8 [g/cm3], which is around about 30 per cent lighter than alumina and 15 per cent lighter than silicon carbide, depending on the precise composition.”
Apparently, the MOD is evaluating the performance of the plates using a special apparatus that is designed to measure secondary trauma from projectile impacts known as “behind armor blunt trauma.”
Besides being lighter, another benefit of Jones and Pick’s innovative armor is that production costs may be lower because it can be sintered at lower temperatures (1500–1700 °C) under pressureless conditions. Besides savings energy costs, the sintering approach allows the creation of more complex shapes.
The work on this armor was initially funded by the MOD’s Center for Defense Enterprise, but Jones and Pick were recently awarded a £25,000 Venture Prize from the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, a delightfully named 655-year-old organization that now serves as nonprofit group to support metallurgy and materials science education.
In a story on SHU website, Jones says the prize will be used for the pilot phase to commercialize armor made from the new material. He says the composite has “the potential to be used in a number of armor systems, including vehicle armor. This prize will help us to move to the pilot scale in order to demonstrate the full potential of the material. What makes us confident of commercial success is that the material has another use; it can be used as the kiln furniture needed for the rapid firing of porcelain ceramic ware, with this market estimated at over 100 million euros per annum in Europe alone.”