Lighter, stronger, more affordable: the next generation of body armor
ATS Armor founding partner Brian Beckwith discusses how the company leverages technology and design to forge better ballistic protection
The following is paid content sponsored by ATS Armor.
By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
Brian T. Beckwith is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps and past product development manager and vice president for TASER International. In December 2012, he and two other former TASER executives, Tom Smith and Hans Marrero, founded Achilles Technology Solutions, and in January 2015 launched ATS Armor. Now, with the acquisition of an advanced materials development company, ATS is looking to propel the industry toward a higher standard.
Here, Beckwith shares his thoughts on the future of body armor and how advances in technology will help law enforcement officers in the field.
What is the mission of ATS Armor?
We build protective products, specifically body armor, and our mission is to defend life. We do this through the design, manufacture and the application of what we consider to be the best armor technologies in the world.
Why enter the tactical body armor market? What need do these products meet?
We look around and see the things that are going on around the world, and it’s not growing more peaceful. It’s growing more dangerous. We’re seeing the assault on domestic law enforcement.
We’re seeing basically a stagnant armor technology that’s been that way for over a couple decades. I was wearing the same plates when I left the Marine Corps that I was issued as a lieutenant.
Some of us have walked in the shoes of that person we refer to as “the protector,” whether it’s a military person or law enforcement, and we understand how important it is to outfit those folks with the best protection possible.
To us, there had to be better technologies out there to build better plates, make them lighter, make them stronger, so we embarked upon an initiative to try and leverage the new technologies that were out there and put this protection in front of existing law enforcement, federal, and military agencies.
How does ATS Armor approach the product development process? What is Electronic Design Mechanical Analysis (EDMA)? Why is it important?
We approach it methodically. Early in the design process, we say we want to build a plate that stops a given type of round that has a given kinetic energy. Through the Electronic Design Mechanical Analysis process, our team will make a recommendation to us to try a particular material in a given amount, put it together in a particular way and then see how it performs. We’ve had great success using this scientific approach in the beginning, and that has allowed us to design correctly very early, without having to go through costly guesses.
We were able to bring in a lot of expertise, and with a very small team, we were able to work through the initial development of these products. We achieved our goals well ahead of the plan, and within six months, we had reached solutions for four separate threat-level type plates. Our Type III just received certification from the National Institute of Justice, and our Type IV and our Type III++ plates successfully passed certification testing. We are now awaiting the formality of paperwork from the NIJ.
How do you test your products internally?
We take the prototypes to the range ourselves and mimic the NIJ test protocol as closely as we can, even though we’re not an official test facility. We shoot the plates against the designed threat and see how they perform.
If we’re satisfied, then we’ll send a small sample off to one of the NIJ-certified labs to see if they are coming up with the same results as we came up with. If they do, then we go through the formal process of building the required number of plates and submitting the design for an official certification.
ATS Armor recently acquired Materials and Electrochemical Research Corp., an advanced R&D firm and materials manufacturer. How has this helped improve your products?
When Tom, Hans and I first formed Achilles Technology Solutions three years ago, it was designed to be a distribution company. We were looking for emerging safety and security products that we thought might be disruptive to the market, a lot better, or set themselves apart from what was out there. Through those efforts, we became aligned with an armor plate producing company who happened to be doing work with MER – Materials and Electrochemical Research Corp. – and they basically contracted us, due to our military experience, to help them shoot and test some developmental designs of armor.
When this company ceased production, we didn’t want to see the opportunities we had built for armor plates go away. Nor did we want to see an opportunity lost to have our service members or law enforcement officers wear a superior product, something that could better save their lives. These were the main reasons behind us deciding to get into the armor plate producing business. We set out with a goal to build the best plates in the world to put on our protectors in law enforcement and the military.
On October 1 of 2015, we completed the acquisition of MER by Achilles Technology Solutions, and the new company is called ATS-MER. ATS-MER is a small business down in Tucson, Ariz., with about 42 employees, including more than 10 Ph.Ds. Some of their scientists are world-renowned experts in things like advanced materials, titanium alloys and advanced ceramics. We were working with them on a specific, lightweight ceramic that could be used in body armor plates, and we became aware of the other technologies that they had invented over 35 years of R&D.
The beauty of this acquisition is, not only do we have the ability now to take these technologies that have been sitting on the shelf and commercialize them underneath the umbrella of the ATS holding company, but as we start to develop the next generation of advanced armor, we will now leverage the brain trust at ATS-MER to make the next generational advance in armor technology a reality.
What are you most excited about?
We think our charted course will lead us to a design for the next generation of body armor that’s significantly lighter than what exists today – and build it for the same or lesser cost. Today, if you opt for plates that are lighter, they cost more money because you’re using much more expensive materials to gain that weight savings – it is a trade-off.
We have some things that we envision will take a significant amount of weight off the plate but for relatively the same price. That’s the future.
As we move forward, we’re not limiting our focus to body armor. I think a more applicable and broader term would be ballistic protection. We now own technologies that have applications well outside of body armor, so we’re looking to leverage all of those.
What features set ATS Armor’s products apart?
We consider ourselves differentiated from the rest of the market by our stopping power. Everything we make is stand-alone, and it’s multiple shot. In our patent-pending QuadCurve design, we have built four distinct curves into our torso plates, which make them the most ergonomic plates that conform more closely to the body than any other plate on the market.
Also, our protection goes edge to edge. It doesn’t matter where that bullet impacts our plate – 9.75 inches across and 12 inches up and down, it’s going to give the wearer ballistic protection.
All of our plates are multi-shot, NIJ-certified and compliant, exceed government standards, and we’re lightweight. No other protection is needed for our plates to be effective against the prescribed threat level. All of the ATS plates are stand-alone.
I’ll put the ATS Armor product that we have today up at the range against anyone that’s out there. We know they’re that good.
What’s on the horizon for ATS Armor?
We’re seeing a dynamic in the market where administrators and municipalities are allocating funds to put active shooter kits and additional up-armor capabilities on their regular patrol officers and not just tactical response units like SWAT. We are actively pursuing these opportunities through an extensive outreach program and live demonstration initiative to get the word out to the public about the best plates available, those from ATS Armor.
Going forward, we’ll also be leveraging the work we’re doing in advanced materials, ceramics and metal alloys with our sister company ATS-MER to revolutionize the armor industry.
For more information on body armor and ballistic protection, contact ATS Armor.