Ballistic Vests - The Future

When it comes to protective vests, there can be no complacency. At Safeguard's research facilities, their team of experts are constantly testing the latest para-aramid fibers and UHWMPEs to advance the capabilities of the products.

Safeguard's collaboration with universities has proven invaluable to maintaining our status at the forefront of armor manufacture. The exclusive layering system employed ensures thinner, lighter, more flexible armor without compromising on ballistic protection.

A vast amount of time is spent examining and redeveloping the external carriers. The user is a priority. By experimenting with innovative ergonomic styles and original cooling systems, an armor is produced that offers optimum comfort over periods of extended use.

Safeguard's development team has manufactured, and continues to create, the most advanced, most wearable armor on the market.

The Research and Development of body armor 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 armor the same but increasing its protective capacity. The other aspect of R&D is to use new materials with different properties to create armor, but the aim is largely the same; creating bullet proof 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 Armor

The development of lighter and thinner armor is a top priority for most manufacturers of bullet proof vests and bullet resistant materials. The most restrictive aspect of body armor 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 armor acts as an insulator, keeping the wearer warm. In hot or humid climates however body armor will dramatically increase the temperature of the wearer.  DuPont, the manufacturers of Kevlar, are constantly researching ways to create lightweight versions of Kevlar to go into bullet proof vests, but research into the carrier is just as important. The carrier is essentially the vest part of a bullet proof 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 utilizes CoolMax technology in the carrier to move heat and moisture away from the body.

Another area of research in making body armor 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 armor is hardly a new development, and takes its inspiration from medieval suits of armor that copied nature to make scaled armor 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 armor’ allows more flexible and lightweight armor to be made that remains strong and tough. Looking at the way materials are formed and utilized in nature has provided exciting new opportunities for the development of body armor.

New Materials & the Future

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 armor manufacturers. The most fantastical is 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 bullet proof vests. The added benefit is its fairly simple manufacturing process, which requires much less specialized 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 armor, 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 have created a liquid called Shear-Thickening Fluid (STF) which has tremendous potential as a bullet proof material. This liquid behaves differently to Newtonian fluids as it hardens upon impact, dispersing energy over a large area. This naturally makes it ideally suited to body armor. 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 armor.

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 armor by stretching at the point of impact before cracking outward across the material. While these cracks are one disadvantage of the new material, it 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 armor, they have yet to be properly utilized as body armor 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 bullet proof manufacturers.