Research and Development
Developing body armor is important in making sure the wearer is as comfortable and protected as possible. While the increased accessibility of Kevlar® made body armor much more wearable, it can still be cumbersome at higher levels of protection. By making materials thinner and lighter vests can be made much more comfortable. However, this also means that protection can be increased by adding additional layers without increasing weight. This is a major part of body armor research and development. The other major area of R&D is looking for new materials to use in body armor. This takes its inspiration from a wide variety of things, including nature, and there are some exciting areas of research that are quickly becoming viable alternatives to Kevlar®.
Improving the Armor
Bullet proof vests most often utilise DuPont® Kevlar®™ in their protective plates. This is because of its high strength-to-weight ratio and its ability to displace and absorb energy across itself. However, these protective plates used in body armor require multiple layers of Kevlar®™ or equivalent in order to make them bullet resistant. This naturally increases the weight and if protection is needed at higher levels, even more layers need to be used. Increasing the protective capability of the fabric can allow plates to be made with fewer layers, making them much lighter. Lighter body armor means that individuals have more flexibility and freedom of movement while wearing a protective vest. Manufacturers of materials used in body armor, like DuPont®, continually strive to reduce the weight of their materials, allowing vests to be much lighter and thinner.
Lighter armor means that even harder plates can be made even more comfortable. Protection against more extreme threats, from rifles for example, requires rigid plates of Ceramics, Polyethylene or a mixture of the two, which can be inserted into the carrier. However, this can greatly increase the weight of protective clothing, and so research into lighter protective plates greatly benefits those who need armor that can stop high calibre ammunition. Manufacturers of body armor have designed lighter armors are much more comfortable to wear. Another similar area of development has been in making these lighter and thinner armors multi-threat, providing increased protection at the same weight.
Improving the Carrier
Many of the deaths among police officers occur when the officer doesn’t wear the vest, usually because it is hot and uncomfortable. This is just as true among civilians, and manufacturers are already working towards making the protective plates lighter and thinner. However, this means nothing when the carrier (the vest that holds the panels) is uncomfortable. This is why manufacturers of body armor are beginning to develop carriers that incorporate breathable materials that can keep the wearer cool and disperse heat across the vest. This means that bullet proof vests that are worn close to the skin will be far less uncomfortable for the wearer. SafeGuard Clothing® incorporates CoolMax™ technology to help draw moisture away from the skin and to control the temperature of the wearer. Adjustable Velcro straps, new designs and custom cuts of fabric are all improvements that manufacturers are utilising in an effort to reduce temperature and increase comfort. There are also numerous supplementary products available which are designed to stimulate airflow when worn with body armor, including patterned inserts and even small hand pumps for manual circulation of air around the wearer’s body. Some manufacturers are also designing carriers that replicate other articles of clothing; waistcoats and suit jackets can all be made from bullet proof materials or with inserts for protective plates.