New light-weight, low-cost, environmentally friendly ceramic body armour has the potential to be used on the frontline by British troops or police, thanks to the award of a prize for its continuing development.
The body armour has been developed by Dr Hywel Jones at Sheffield Hallam University's Materials and Engineering Research Institute (MERI) and Dr Anthony Pick, a ceramic consultant from Barnsley, who scooped the £25,000 Venture Prize awarded by the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers.
The new material is made using a combination of several ceramic systems, a carbide, a nitride and a number of oxides, forming a novel, strong, hard but light ceramic composite.
It combines the advantages of lower weight, lower cost of production and the ability to be made in different sizes and shapes - while still having the ballistic performance required by the armed forces.
The team of researchers will use the funds to develop a pilot manufacturing facility in South Yorkshire, before eventually launching a full production facility using a novel furnace design.
Prototype armour components made from the material are currently undergoing full ballistic trials at the Ministry of Defence.
The early development work has been funded by the MoD through its Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE).
The CDE supports UK-based innovations from industry and academics which have the potential to protect and assist UK forces during their operations.
Currently the ceramic composite demonstrates a 30 per cent weight saving compared with an armour plate of the same size made of alumina ceramics and is 15% lighter than another widely used ceramic armour, silicon carbide. It also requires a much lower furnace temperature meaning less energy is used and less CO2 is produced in manufacture, making it an environmentally-friendly product.
The feasibility stage, funded by the CDE, resulted in MoD ballistic results which showed sufficient promise for further funding to be awarded enabling the manufacture of enough components for full scale ballistic trials.
Dr Jones, said: "This prize money will help fund the pilot stage of the project, a step on the road to full commercialisation and this material's use on the front line."
"This product could reduce the burden on the infantry soldier, which is especially important in hot environments, and has the potential to be used in a number of armour systems, including vehicle armour. This prize will help us to move to the pilot scale in order to demonstrate the full potential of the material.
"The commercial possibilities for new body armour material are enormous, with the European market alone having a potential of well over £20m per year. 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 100m euros per annum in Europe alone."
Dr Pick, a consultant at Barnsley-based KeramTech, added: "With our new material, optimal strength is achieved without the use of pressure during sintering which means more complex shapes can be manufactured allowing for greater flexibility of design."
Professor Bill Bonfield, chairman of the Armourers and Brasiers Venture Prize judging panel, said: "This product is a very worthy winner. Our aim is to stimulate and encourage British-based materials science development and this team has exploited materials technology, identified opportunities for the new material both in the defence arena for body armour and in the commercial world as kiln furniture."
Professor Bill Speirs, the Master of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire (Sheffield) , said: " I am delighted that this innovation by researchers from Sheffield Hallam University has been recognised in this way, particularly as one of the originators of this idea is a Freeman of the Company. We have had a relationship with the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers to develop skills for engineering and design since 1926. We have seen the world of manufacturing and technology change over the years and both Companies recognise that innovation and technology are vital to ensure the long term health of UK manufacturing.