How can a box fish help shape the future of armor?
In a recent study conducted at the University of California, in San Francisco, a team of engineers have studied the biological structure of the Box Fish. The outlying structure of this animal has drawn the attention of body armor producers. The research found by this team could alter the way all companies make their armor. The box fish has been able to survive for years against far larger predators because of their outlying structure. In turn, organizations like the Air Force have now taken measures to try to implement the technology in future armor. But what exactly is all the hype?
The Box Fish
The Box Fish is a bony marine fish that is in the Tetradontiformes, this family of fish are known for their biological modifications that they have evolved to form. It gets its name from its unusual shape caused from its protective hard armor. This fish also has several names in which it is referred to,including trunk fish, cowfish, and coffer fish. Although, the box fish moves extremely slowly, it has several additions that aide in its survival. These include a hard armor surrounding all the vital insides of the fish, and a poisonous secretion in reply to tense situations. The poisonous secretion can only be triggered if the Box Fish is threaten. The armor on the Box Fish is a tradeoff, it protects against possible predators, but makes their movement much slower. However, what it lacks in speed it makes up for in protection. The outlying armor that surrounds the Box Fish is what has caught the eyes of Body Armor specialist.
The Inspiration behind the Change
The outside arrangement and anatomy of the scales of the Box Fish, are the focal point of the inspiration behind reforming the structure of body armor. The armor itself is comparable to an infant skull, it develops and grows as the animal matures. The scales, referred to as scutes, are connected by sutores, and eventually fused together as one. Their zig zag pattern eventually locks into a strong structure. The shape of the scales is the first interesting piece to this puzzle. The hexagonal shaped scales, are not notably known to be apart any other animal but the bonefish, although they do overlap like majority of fish scales. Their over lapping shape makes for a strong and reliable structure. In addition to overlapping the shape of the borders of the scales makes this overlapping of the hard scales, allows for complete protection with no weak penetrable areas. Another interesting aspect of the scales is that there is a star shaped structure in the middle that covers the scales and applies pressure. The other interesting aspect and one of the highest curiosity, is the addition of the underlying layer of collagen fibers. These fibers act as a stabilizer in the instance a predator does penetrate the outlying scales. If such an occurrence were to happen the collagen stabilizes the structure so it may not be compromised, and thus the assumption is that it assist with no further penetration. This unique structure has caught the eye of several military and engineering researchers.
What that means for body armor?
The application of this bio technology could be used to produce a whole new category of armor. The numerous observations and studies conducted have shown that the reinforcement if the outer shell makes its nearly implausible for predators to penetrate the structure. If applied to body armor, we could create a structure that has a whole new level of ballistic protection.
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What is AR500 steel?
AR500 steel is the industry designation given to Abrasion Resistant steel that has a Brinell hardness rating of 500. The “AR” in AR500 steel stands for “Abrasion Resistant”. While this may seem rather odd, using abrasion resistant steel for ballistic purposes like armor and steel targets actually makes perfect sense. The same abrasive forces that would deteriorate softer steel in manufacturing and mining applications is roughly equivalent to the ballistic forces introduced by a bullet. While these two forces may not seem to be remotely comparable, the solution to both is hardening the steel. The harder the steel, the less it will deform under a specified force, in this case a bullet. The harder the steel, the faster and heavier rounds it is able to stop effectively. This trend continues in steel until around the 500 level on the Brinell scale, while it would seem reasonable to assume that AR600 or 700 would be capable of stopping even tougher rounds, field-testing has shown that past 500, the steel becomes very brittle. While these extremely hard steels may not deform when faced with large magnum class rifle rounds, they wind up shattering catastrophically, usually still letting the projectile through in the process. AR500 is the preferred middle ground between hardness and flexibility for ballistic applications because it stops the greatest number of calibers while maintaining its structural integrity.
Hardness is measured typically using the Brinell hardness scale. The Brinell scale describes the indentation hardness of various materials through the degree of penetration caused by an indenter. Basically, pressure is applied to a steel or carbide ball on the material and the indentation caused by this force is measured and then translated via an equation to a numerical score. One of several definitions used to describe the property of “hardness” in the material science community; it is the scale most commonly used in the steel industry and, by extension, in the steel ballistic plate-manufacturing sector. Typical alloys include roughly around C-.30%, Si-.70%, Mn-1.70%, Cr-1.00%, Ni-.80%, Mo-.50% and B-.004%, though each manufacturer uses their own proprietary blend, this steel makeup is a rough average. AR500 steel on the molecular level then does not seem particularly special, and it really is not as far as steel goes, but it does have a few special properties. Starting from this stock blend steel, it is then heat and quench hardened to its specified 500 Brinell rating. To put that number into perspective, ordinary mild steel only has a Brinell hardness of 120. A square inch of AR500 steel can withstand up to 110 tons of pressure. AR-500 steel is also about the hardest workable material available, everything beyond it on the Brinell scale, such as glass and ceramics, have a tendency to shatter when worked and are therefore susceptible to the catastrophic failure discussed earlier.
The advantage of using such a hard variety of steel is that very little of it is necessary to defeat even very fast rifle rounds. As a result, the overall weight of an AR500 steel bulletproof vest can be kept well below 20lbs while offering complete torso and back protection. In comparison, the ceramic bulletproof vests currently in use by the US Army weigh up to 35lbs, or roughly double the weight of an average NIJ Level III+ AR500 steel vest. Even very thin sheets of AR500 are capable of defeating pistol calibers. Even fully rifle rated plates are relatively thin compared to their Kevlar or Ceramic counterparts. This makes them easier to move around in and less cumbersome. This makes AR500 steel bulletproof vests perfect for those working inside or in tight quarters like vehicles.
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