In recent years appliqué (retrofitted) ceramic armour has become the chosen material for protecting light-armoured vehicles thanks to its combination of being lightweight, yet performing as effectively as metal when standing up to small-arms impacts, such as bullets.
However ceramic armour has one significant flaw that has, to date stood unresolved as engineering doctorate research engineer at Surrey University, Andrew Harris explained:
“A very basic ceramic armour would be a very hard front-face material such as alumina or silicon carbide that is bonded to an energy-absorbing backing material, typically a composite fibre or metal that absorbs the energy of the fragments.
“When you get a bullet impact, it transmits a lot of energy into the ceramic and that shock causes the ceramic tiles to come off the backing material, which makes the ceramic armour only good for one hit. You can get around this by over-designing the ceramic armour, making it heavier. What we’ve done is improve the bond strength; we tested it and found that the armour performance is improved.”
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The team’s unique treatment of the adhesive, coupled with the pre-conditioning of the ceramic surface prior to adhesion, has led to a significant improvement in the armour’s reliability.
Head of design at Lockheed Martin UK, Steve Burnage added:
“We are currently in the position of having proven the multi-hit capability of the bonded ceramic armour. In doing so, we now need to optimise the treatment of the surface of the ceramic, in terms of minimising preparation time and therefore cost, for optimal performance.”
Future discussions with ceramic armour manufacturers are expected to help further improve the process in an effort to make it more commercially viable.
“The objective being to have lighter, more durable and effective armour systems for both vehicles and personnel body armour,” concluded Burnage.