Preparing to defend – from The Age Newspaper

The Age Newspaper (11/11/14) has featured an article on the work undertaken by DMTC in developing a new ceramic armour plate to be used for personal defence. Recently this work was acknowledged by being awarded the National Industry Innovation Award from Land Defence. The article follows.

Preparing to defend

History is littered with examples of how new materials were developed initially for defensive applications. War and battle are incubators for ideas.
And according to Professor George Franks, an expert in the development of new materials from the Melbourne School of Engineering, it isn’t until times of peace that such ideas and materials are given domestic applications.

While there may be a relationship between war and innovation, (trying to stay alive is the ultimate motivator) the real test of the invention is the application it has in peacetime. Where would modern aviation be without radar?

Working with the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC), Professor Franks, along with his team and collaborators recently won a National Industry Innovation Award from Land Defence Australia for a new ceramic armour plate to be used for personal defence.

DMTC develops and delivers new materials technologies and manufacturing processes to enhance Australia’s defence capability. This is a partnership between Defence, defence industries and research agencies.

Professor Franks says this collaboration was established to develop industry capabilities within Australia to supply our Defence Forces.

“This is the first manufacture of the ceramic vest component in Australia. Previously, Australian Defence Forces had to buy such products from Germany and the US,” he says.

“Our current industry partner is Australian Defence Apparel (ADA) in Bendigo. Opportunities to use this technology are also being discussed elsewhere in the sector.”

“ADA have produced 3000 jackets and have provided a boost to the local manufacturing industry as well as better protection to our diggers,” Professor Franks says.

New material development has meant a better product that is safe and lighter. Professor Franks explains how controlling the properties of the ‘paste’ resulted in Boron Carbide, a lighter material.

The researchers had to imagine a hard strong material that was still lightweight to offer soldiers security and mobility. The vest is backed by a polymer cover. The first bullet will hit and crack the vest but the material is contained by the backing polymer.

While designed to take three bullets, the hard ceramic armour is resistant to rifle shots and offers a higher level of protection than the run-of-the-mill polymer fibre bullet-proof vests you see police wearing on TV shows. The next part of the research will be about development of the curved sections to protect the shoulders and the helmet.

“Our next challenge is the making of more complicated shapes,” Professor Franks says.

Such new materials have other applications, including heat engines in aerospace components that allow us to travel at faster speeds. New materials that sustain higher temperatures will mean fuels will burn at a higher temperature and will produce energy more efficiently. Similar materials are also used to line processing equipment in the field of minerals mining, to make equipment resistant to abrasion.

Innovative materials being developed within DMTC also mean potential new products such as corrosion-resistant steels for ships, armour for bushmaster vehicles and new ways of making aerospace components for our jet fighters.

Professor Franks believes the creation of new materials is essential for new products and ideas. We need not imagine lightweight ceramic ball bearings that don’t rust or a ceramic foam that is damage tolerant. They are already here.

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Posted by DMTC on November 11th, 2014