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Ceramic Enhanced Combat Helmets And Personal Armor

Mark Colin, Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Ceramics Platform within 3M Advanced Materials Division, talks to AZoM about the benefits of ceramic armor and the Ceradyne and 3M integration.

Can you give a brief introduction to how ceramic materials can be utilised in the defence industry and what properties they possess that makes them so useful?

Ceramic composite armor systems can be utilized for personnel, vehicle, naval vessel, helicopter and aircraft applications. Advanced technical ceramics are lightweight and provide innovative ballistic protection solutions for durable armor systems.

Tell us about the recent agreement between Ceradyne and the US government to supply Enhanced Combat Helmets (ECH) – how did this come about?

Ceradyne, Inc., will supply 77,000 Enhanced Combat Helmets to the U.S. Marine Corps. This $80 million contract is an outcome of the joint procurement program led by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army to improve head protection for Marines and Soldiers.

The Enhanced Combat Helmet is a US Marine Corps program to replace the combat helmets of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines using Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fibers imbedded in a thermoplastic resin instead of the Aramid fibers imbedded in a thermoset resin used on the current generation combat helmets.

The ECH’s profile is very similar to the Advanced Combat Helmet but is thicker. The helmet is required to protect against certain rifle projectiles as well as have a higher level protection against bomb fragments compared to the current combat helmet. The helmet will be compatible with camouflage fabric helmet covers.

ECH development began in 2007. Solicitation for the ECH came out in late April 2009 and proposals were accepted in early June 2009. Ceradyne was downselected to produce the Enhanced Combat Helmet from a group of four contractors in December 2011. On 16 July 2013, the Marine Corps ordered 3,850 helmets for deployed Marines, to be fielded before the end of 2013. The Marine Corps plan to buy 77,000 helmets, enough to outfit a large contingent of deployed Marines.

Enhanced Combat Helmet.

Enhanced Combat Helmet. Image credit: 3M

How are the new helmets unique in the field of personal armor?

The Ceradyne Enhanced Combat Helmets are the only helmets that have passed the Government’s ECH specifications.

The innovation lies in the proprietary process technologies used to produce these helmets. These manufacturing techniques can produce a superior performing helmet in high volumes.

Can the helmets be integrated easily with current infantry combat equipment?

The helmets had to be compatible with other components of infantry combat equipment such as body armor systems, protective goggles, night vision equipment and a camouflage fabric helmet cover.

How do the helmets achieve improved ballistic protection over helmets currently in use?

The new technology in both provides increased protection against fragments and small arms, and for the first time stops rifle bullets.Proprietary technology forms the helmet shell geometry from a multi-layered laminate without having to cut and dart individual layers.

Many high performance materials are involved in the fabrication, which were carefully selected to contribute toward fulfilling the superior ballistic requirements as well as all the other performance specifications.

Could you give a brief overview of the Ceradyne SAPI armor plates and the applications of these?

SAPI is strong, lightweight ceramic infrastructure integrated within body armor that protects combatants.

SAPI Body Armor Plate.

SAPI Body Armor Plate. Image credit: 3M

What materials does Ceradyne recommend for weight critical body armor applications?

For weight critical body armor applications, Ceradyne recommends hot pressed boron carbide and silicon carbide for high mass efficiency and high volume production suitability.

Can you explain how the ceramic armour is integrated with composite structures to form armor?

The composites are vertically integrated with hot pressed boron carbide and silicon carbide ceramic -- integrated with optimized composite structures to produce rugged multi-hit armors.

What does the in-house ballistic testing at Ceradyne involve?

To ensure that advanced ceramic materials offer the highest performance with the lightest weight solution, Ceradyne utilizes an in-house ballistics range to test materials and body armor designs against a wide array of ball and armor piercing threats that range from 5.56 to 7.62 millimeters.

The ceramic strike-face of a lightweight body armor system shatters the bullet on impact. The effectiveness of ceramic is enhanced by a proprietary backing layer that provides structural support and absorbs residual energy. Properties of high hardness and strength, together with low density, impart the unique efficiency of ceramics as a principal component of advanced armor systems.

How do you see ceramics being utilised further in defence applications in the future and how will Ceradyne be a part of this?

3M has 47 core technology platforms, some that strongly complement Ceradyne capabilities and lend themselves well for future product development, such as Ceramics, Adhesives, Sensor, Lightweighting. Plus, next-generation products will benefit from the value in quality and predictable process improvements that 3M has established and proven for decades that combined with Ceradyne solutions, can further defence applications.

Another exciting possibility for industry rests with Petroceram, where 3M can bring similar innovation to the critical oil and gas industry. For example, state-of-the-art sand screen systems generally consist of metals and are not abrasion resistant. PetroCeram technology uses ceramic materials, which are one order of magnitude harder than metallic materials and show no indications of abrasion under reservoir conditions. Ceramic provides twice the stiffness compared to metal solutions and therefore ensure a higher collapse resistance under increased overburden pressures.

PetroCeram® Sand Screens can be provided as a self-supporting system or with an internal perforated tube. Retrofitting with the system is possible in almost any prevailing wellbore condition, for instance during workover operations it can be mounted on existing commercial landing nipples. PetroCeram® Sand Screens cover all well specific features such as dogleg severity, horizontal, slanted and vertical wells with all prevailing grain size distributions.

Mark ColinAbout Mark Colin

Mark Colin is Vice President and General Manager of the Advanced Ceramics Platform within 3M Advanced Materials Division. He joined 3M in 1987 as a product accountant in the Printing and Publishing Systems Division.

From there, he went on to hold management roles – both abroad in 3M United Kingdom and in the U.S. – within numerous divisions, including Health Care, Investor Relations, and Display and Graphics.

In 2010 he was named Vice President and General Manager of the Mobile Interactive Solutions Division. Colin holds a BSBA in accounting and an MBA in finance from the University of Minnesota.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

G.P. Thomas

Written by

G.P. Thomas

Gary graduated from the University of Manchester with a first-class honours degree in Geochemistry and a Masters in Earth Sciences. After working in the Australian mining industry, Gary decided to hang up his geology boots and turn his hand to writing. When he isn't developing topical and informative content, Gary can usually be found playing his beloved guitar, or watching Aston Villa FC snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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