Ideas and discoveries

18 May 2023

Innovative composite from TRICERA ensures lower weight of safes or higher resistance of police shields

Ceramic-metal armour from TriCera after tests | Autor: Jan Prokopius

Martin Kachlík and Jakub Roleček, scientists from CEITEC (Central European Institute of Technology) BUT (Brno University of Technology), have been working on the development of ceramic armour for almost ten years. They have come up with a solution in the form of a solid combination of non-porous ceramics and aluminium alloys that is unrivalled in the world. The resulting composite is outstanding in terms of fire resistance, high mechanical resistance and unlimited lifetime. It is a ballistic resistant material that can protect military vehicles or police officers behind mobile shields from firearms or explosives. Scientists in the field of safe construction have found a new opportunity for it. In 2021, they moved some of the research under the umbrella of the university spin-off, now start-up, TriCera.

Many armour manufacturers rely on a combination of ceramic and polymer matrix or offer steel armour. The polymer version is the most common type of armour due to its light weight. However, it has low temperature and mechanical resistance and does not have a long lifetime. Steel armour is very heavy and makes mobility of people and vehicles difficult. “We took a path between the two existing solutions. We wanted to combine ceramics with something that would have more lifetime and especially temperature resistance. So we basically replaced the polymer adhesive in the ballistic-resistant composite with an aluminium alloy,” Kachlík describes the initial experiments. The molten metal, however, does not wet the ceramic and so does not form a strong bond with it. It behaves much like mercury from a broken thermometer, which breaks up into disconnected globules on a flat floor. The tested armour made of this material looked fine at first glance, but due to the incoherence of the ceramic bodies with the matrix, it stopped being effective after the first shot.

Scientists Jakub Roleček and Martin Kachlík developed a unique ceramic-metal armour | Autor: Jan Prokopius
The surface adjustment of the ceramic helped, which guaranteed a durable connection of the metal matrix with the ceramic even after multiple hits by penetrating projectiles. Thus, a synergistic ceramic-metal armour was created, which, thanks to the combination of lower weight, mechanical and thermal resistance, found application not only in the protection of armoured vehicles.

Martin Kachlík and his colleagues are currently working on the project “Advanced Ballistic Shields for Personal Protection“, on which they are cooperating with the Police of the Czech Republic. The goal is a mobile ballistic shield for special forces that would also have high resistance. It should also withstand situations after which the ceramic-polymer shields currently in use are discarded: “When a police officer needs to throw a shield down stairs or use it as a ladder for tactical reasons, the manufacturers can no longer guarantee its ballistic resistance,” Kachlík explains. With a new and more resistant model with ceramic-metal armour, the police could use the shield repeatedly for a wider range of threats.

Two years ago, researchers founded a spin-off TriCera, which started to participate in research activities that could not be carried out within the university or only with great difficulty. The spin-off was intended to help offer the developed technologies into practice as quickly as possible. Initially, it seemed that the greatest interest would be in military applications of the new materials. But with the war in Ukraine, the situation has changed.

Ceramic-metal armour from TriCera after tests | Autor: Jan Prokopius
Martin Kachlík explains the reasons: “In the European military industry, the main focus was on quality and development, but not on production capacity. No one anticipated that a conflict would arise in Europe where so much military equipment would be destroyed on a daily basis. For many years to come, companies will focus mainly on restocking and development is likely to be neglected.”

There is another difficulty related to the above. If military development is slowing down, then it is very difficult for a small company like TriCera to offer incremental innovations for existing solutions: “It is necessary to work together on the development of a combat vehicle right from the start. Manufacturers have to go through very exacting testing, not just ballistic resistance, and if they change just one screw, they basically have to go through it all over again. Using a new material for an existing solution is thus at a significant disadvantage for the combat vehicle manufacturer.”

Ceramic-metal armour from TriCera | Autor: TriCera
Therefore, researchers have started to focus on the civilian sector, where there is still capacity for innovation. Not only the project of mobile ballistic shields for the police is promising, but also the chance for the application of ceramic-metal composite for a new generation of safes is opening up. High mechanical and thermal resistance is also important for this area, as well as weight reduction compared to competing steel and concrete safe solutions. “If we reduce the weight of the safe, while maintaining a high level of protection, we have virtually no competition. Such safes could be used where this has not been possible before, for example, because of the load-bearing capacity of floors and so on. Preliminary tests already show us that this is a very promising path,” Kachlík explains.

Scientists from CEITEC BUT are among the world leaders in the field of ceramic-metal armour. No one else produces their certified solution. However, it needs to be promoted more intensively, especially in B2B (business to business) communication. Participation in trade fairs such as the Brno International Defence and Security Technologies Fair – IDET should also help. TriCera will present armour for armoured vehicles or police shields as well as a demonstration of a possible solution for safes.

The results achieved by Martin Kachlík and Jakub Roleček are proof of high level of materials engineeringbut also the diversity of research at BUT. “I have a degree in materials engineering, so that's what I'm most passionate about. I try to find the best solution for the application. It's part physics, part chemistry, and although many don't think so, it's also largely design and manufacturing technology. Success is led by a diverse team, where you can approach problems from different angles and say that an idea is good in three ways, for example, but needs to be redesigned for the fourth.” Martin Kachlík gives an insight into the workings of the research team.

(kub)

Autor: TriCera
Autor: TriCera
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