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June 21, 2012
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Advancements in ballistic armor accelerate

Industry collaboration among fiber suppliers, weavers, and manufacturers is helping to drive development of state-of-the-art solutions for multi-market segments

By Samuel White, Point Blank Enterprises
PoliceOne Special Contributor

In my 20 years of working in ballistics R&D, I can now say that the industry has truly transitioned from its infancy stage into adulthood — the marketplace has matured! We’re seeing all the pieces and players — from the fiber and fabric producers to the raw material converters (weavers) and armor manufacturers — coming together to share experiences and critical insights from the field with R&D labs.

As a result, we have the development of highly advanced ballistic packages with huge cross-over potential for multiple sectors, ranging from military and federal to Special Forces and reaching law enforcement agencies nationwide.

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More than ever, these markets are benefiting tremendously from the most innovative ballistic technologies the industry has to offer.

Ballistic Technology Rapidly Evolving
If we look at major scientific developments in concealable body armor for Law Enforcement, we could go back to the advent of DuPont Kevlar and the National Institute of Justice’s (NIJ) funding of body armor developments in the 1960s, to its implementation of the Body Armor Safety Initiative and comprehensive revisions of body armor standards in the 2000s — all of which have led to the creation, adoption and widespread use of body armor; saving the lives of over three thousands officers to date.

We’re starting to see in most recent years the application of ballistic science becoming more mature. Historically, the industry simply “stacked and tacked” materials together. Now, we’re looking deeper at the true science of “cause and effect” and how to take a bullet’s energy of motion (i.e. kinetic energy) to make it zero energy or motionless, as the fibers in the armor are engaged. Researchers have a better understanding of the pure science behind what’s occurring with the absorption and transfer of energy along the layers of fibers, until the bullet is stopped and the forces have dissipated.

I describe the exponential growth we’re seeing as a Moore’s Law of sorts in ballistic material science and technology, with paradigm shifts continuing to become increasingly common and leading to technological change that’s swift and profound.

A New Age of High Performance
For the first time, the industry is delivering a new generation of multi-compliant body armor solutions spearheaded by leading manufacturers and based on the various critical needs of end-users. These latest ballistic armor packages meet the industry’s most stringent requirements for body armor performance, including the NIJ Standard-0101.06 and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Test Protocols. But getting to this point in body armor evolution has required that material suppliers, weavers, manufacturers, R&D labs, regulatory bodies, and end-users align closely to inform and educate each other on what various market segments need and how products must perform.

End-users (servicemen, agents and officers) are by far driving the process, however, as only they know best the threats faced — be it chemical, biological, nuclear, ballistic fragmentation, or edge-blade. The user community is providing a tremendous amount of feedback as more officers are deployed in the “Global War on Terrorism.”

The importance of body armor has never been more realized than now, with customers asking for more than just the minimum standards to be met in their protective gear. We see increasing requests for special performance requirements such as fragmentation requirements from the soldier in theater or the agent working with the DEA. While customers don’t set requirements for the fiber/material supplier, they do set them for the body manufacturer.

They say, “You need to protect me against these particular threats and you have to set up test protocols for these particular conditions.”

The industry is responding by finding the most innovative solutions, which call for a keen understanding of the performance of each offering and the creation of technical synergies to optimize these offerings. Notwithstanding, there are significant challenges for R&D such as the ability to change a two-dimensional material into something that’s three-dimensional and to configure materials to meet load-bearing requirements, for instance.

To answer these challenges, hybridized materials have been introduced to reduce weight and increase comfort while still achieving the maximum performance of ballistic systems.

Where to Next?
We will continue to see acceleration in technological advancements, as the industry unlocks the mystery of cause and effect and how ballistic materials perform. We’re starting to establish what’s happening at the molecular level and better engineer systems with super polymers and super resins, and methods to transfer energy faster, for example. These developments will come with some additional cost, but I expect this to be short term, as the forces of supply and demand balance price conditions.

Additionally, I believe we will see the formation of more centers of excellence and advisory groups such as the Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Advisory Council (LECTAC), the Office of Law Enforcement Standards (OLES), and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) — comprising end-users, providers, suppliers and industry practitioners whose goals are to drive performance benchmarks and foster the growth of the next generation of cutting-edge solutions.

About the Author
Mr. Samuel White joined Point Blank Enterprises in 2001 and has served as the Company’s Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Research & Development and Senior Vice President of Business Development since 2006. Prior to assuming these roles, Mr. White served as President of Point Blank Body Armor, one of four key brands of Point Blank Enterprises, including Protective Apparel Corporation of America (PACA), Protective Products and PARACLETE. He also served as Vice President, where he was responsible for sales, marketing and research and development initiatives. Mr. White has more than 20 years of industry experience and has held a number of management positions in ballistic material development and technical sales with various companies, including Armor Holdings and Allied Signal.


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