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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The classical definition of “bulletproof” is typically presented as an object’s imperviousness to bullets. With the variety and often overwhelming power of modern munitions, making something impenetrable to every possible munition is impractical. When it comes to wearable bulletproof armor, having something that offers maximum protection while maintaining complete mobility requires some degree of compromise. At least it used to.
The government authority that sets the standards for ballistic armor is the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The NIJ thoroughly tests every vest upon its introduction to the market using their rigorous standardized laboratory methods. The NIJ first started doing these tests to determine which vests would be good enough for police officers and other law enforcement. Since then, the NIJ rating system has become the industry standard for law enforcement, military, and commercially marketed vests. Every vest is given a protection rating which describes what kinds of cartridges the vest is capable of stopping. The ratings serve as a convenient guide to classify and quantify the ballistic capabilities of each vest model.
The chart above outlines the increasing levels of protection at each rating. Level I is only rated for rimfire and archaic cartridges, which are so rare in self-defense situations that no vests are commercially sold with a Level 1 rating. Level IIA describes a vest that is capable of stopping handgun velocity 9mm and other common slow velocity pistol cartridges such as .40 S&W. Level II offers protection against faster moving pistol calibers such as 357 Magnum and pistol calibers shot from carbines. Level IIIA is the highest rating Kevlar vests have been able to achieve thus far. These vests can stop nearly anything fired from a pistol, but they leave their wearer completely exposed to any variety of rifle calibers as well as some of the more exotic armor piercing pistol calibers such as 5.7x28FN. In the past, in order to get full Level III protection, which includes rifle calibers, one would have to spend an exorbitant amount to get hard armor capable of stopping even the lightest rifle cartridges. Because of the inferior steel used in these older vests, they would have to utilize thick, heavy plates in order to offer protection even against some of the more common rifle cartridges. With modern steel processing and hardening methods, it is now possible to get ballistic plates rated beyond Level III+, which is capable of stopping round more powerful than the .308 ball used to certify standard Level III. Level III+ exceeds the standards set by the NIJ and is vastly superior to the common vests used by law enforcement and even most military personnel.
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Advanced ceramics took the materials industry by storm in the early 90’s as the wave into the future. They are often lightweight, strong, and impervious to rust or other common forms of degradation. Ceramic plates are currently used by the United States military because of their marginally higher level of protection compared to more traditional materials. Yet despite their often high-tech reputation, when it comes to applications in ballistic armors, they have a few pronounced drawbacks.
While ceramic ballistic plates can have tensile strengths and hardness levels surpassing hardened steel, they do so at a price. In order to achieve their extreme hardness ratings, ceramic plates become very brittle as a result. In this way, their hardness actually becomes their greatest weakness. In their initial condition, ceramic ballistic plates offer one cohesive strike surface to catch incoming rounds, as the round impacts, the hardness of the ceramic deforms the soft lead, typically aerodynamic bullet into a much flatter mush of semi-molten lead. This now un-fluid dynamic projectile will have a much harder time penetrating through the inner layers of the vest now, so the vest can function and stop the round. As a result of the impact however, the ceramic often cracks under the great force delivered by the projectile. For each subsequent hit, the ceramic plate has less and less strength to counter the force of the bullet and stop it from penetrating. Ceramic plates have a finite number of rounds they can stop effectively, and typically they must be replaced after each hit.
Ceramic plates are extremely hard to manufacture and often times fail quality control during the production process. Due to the exotic materials required and the failure intensive manufacturing processes, the cost of ballistic ceramic plates is the highest in the current bulletproof vest market. Per plate, ceramic plates cost at least 200% more than their steel alternatives. To put our military’s current ballistic plates in perspective in regards to cost, a NIJ Level III+ steel plate typically costs around $150, a single Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert plate used in the US Army’s IOTV (Improved Outer Tactical Vest) can cost up to $600. To put that into perspective, a steel vest with two full AR-500 plates and carrier can be found for only $300.
The combination of their fragility and high cost makes ceramic plates impractical for civilian purposes. While advanced ceramic plates are rated half a step higher on the NIJ rating scale, the negatives associated with using ceramic as a bulletproofing material become more pronounced on the consumer level. While the US military has a vast supply network to replace damaged vests on the field, the civilian does not have this option. Should there be a WROL situation, there is no supply line to get you a new vest should you take a hit, and you would have to work with what you have. The second issue also becomes more pronounced when individually financed. Unlike the military that has the law of large numbers working on their side, an individual that takes a round to a ceramic vest must pay to replace that vest. If working in dangerous environments, the odds of being hit with a second round increases drastically. Your likelihood of getting shot increases the more times you have already been shot.
In terms of consumer-level practicality, the durability and cost of traditional steel plates wins compared to the still new ceramics. While this may change in the future, for right now, the simple AR-500 steel plate makes the most sense for bulletproof protection for the everyday civilian.
While many people mark up the cost of vests made with AR500 steel, thebestbodyarmor.com offers these vests for only $299 right now so that you can afford the protection you need. You can even get $25 off your vest by using promo code “bestvest” at checkout. Unlike a vest that uses ceramic, these vests will protect you against multiple hits and provide the maximum protection for the wearer.