Modern ceramic armor for personal and vehicle protection

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In response to the growing market for body and platform protection, Nurol Teknoloji, Turkey’s leading manufacturer of ceramic protection components, is expanding its production capacities both qualitatively and quantitatively, the latest being the acquisition and integration of German ceramic specialist Industriekeramik Hochrhein (IKH) into its production process.

Long-range weapons mean that troops and their platforms, both in and outside the area of ​​operation, are constantly at risk of being hit by bullets and shrapnel. The increased importance of protection, especially personal protection, has led to a proliferation of body armor of all kinds. Two basic requirements are in conflict: high protection and low weight. Heavy weight reduces mobility and reduces the willingness to wear bulletproof vests.

Modern armor-piercing munitions, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and a variety of new challenges highlight the need for robust protection solutions. In response to changing battlefield dynamics and the resulting increased demand for protection against a multitude of threats, protection solutions are being developed to anticipate and mitigate the evolving threats facing military forces today, and to ensure operator safety in future dynamic operating environments.

Different threats require different protection technologies to ensure the required level of protection against each threat. To achieve the best possible protection, it is often necessary to combine different technologies. Currently, ballistic body protection is mainly based on panels made of ceramic materials.

Manufacturing of ceramic protection plates

Nurol Teknoloji, a subsidiary of Nurol Holding, is one of the most important manufacturers of protective ceramics in Turkey. Since 2008, the company has been manufacturing ballistic products for personal, platform and structural protection (safety cabins, containers) at several production sites in Ankara. For this purpose, high-performance technical ceramics are used. The product range of ballistic ceramics includes boron carbide (B4C), silicon carbide (SiC) and aluminum oxide (Al2O3).

Three stages in the manufacture of boron carbide body armor: (from right to left) powder, sintered boron carbide plate, and finished plate (showing ballistic damage). The finished plate consists of a fabric layer on the front, a sintered boron carbide plate in the middle, and a lining on the rear, which dissipates the energy of the projectile and prevents fragments from reaching the body.
Credit: Gerhard Heiming

According to Nurol, boron carbide is the third hardest known material after diamond and cubic boron nitride. In addition to being extremely hard, it is also one of the most difficult materials to manufacture in the world. The combination of hardness and a relatively low density of 2.5 g/cm³ (compared to approximately 7.85 g/cm³ for steel) makes boron carbide one of the lightest options for high-end ballistic protection, making it ideal as a ballistic plate for personal protection. In addition to its role as an armor material, boron carbide is used to manufacture nozzles due to its high wear resistance, and in the nuclear industry due to its excellent neutron absorption properties.

With the acquisition of IKH, Nurol Teknoloji has strengthened a key element of its ceramic production: IKH is a German company specialising in the production of ceramic powders, the base material for protective plates.

Ceramic powders are produced in a complex chemical-physical process. Precise adherence to the process parameters is a prerequisite for the high quality and consistency of the raw materials. The raw materials are finely ground and mixed according to the product specifications. According to IKH, ceramic powders produced in this way are dimensionally stable during the sintering process and have good pressing properties. This allows for high sintered densities with optimal physical and chemical properties.

The powder produced at IKH is transported, primarily by truck, to the Nurol Teknoloji production facility in Ankara. In the next stage, the ceramic powder is forced into molds at high pressure to shape the material for its intended use, such as bulletproof plates or vehicle platform tiles. These blanks are then sintered at high temperatures. The properties of IKH powder and the associated physical and chemical processes give the material hardness and toughness that exceed the requirements for high-performance munitions.

Direct sintered boron carbide plates are currently one of the top products in bulletproof vests, with a claimed weight reduction of approximately 25% compared to other boron carbide bulletproof vest solutions. The photo shows the starting product boron carbide powder, a bulletproof vest blank on the right, and the finished coated bulletproof vest element on the left. There is a fabric layer in the front, the bulletproof vest in the middle, and the lining behind it. The latter disperses penetration energy and prevents shrapnel from reaching the body.

Nurol Teknoloji continues to invest in high temperature sintering furnaces to increase its direct sintered silicon carbide and boron carbide production capacity to meet the growing demand for the lightest possible personal and vehicle protection solutions.

Gerhard Heiming

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