Future generations of British troops could owe their lives to a prize winning invention by a Sheffield Hallam University scientist and a specialist in ceramics from Barnsley.
Dr Hywel Jones, from the University’s Materials and Engineering Research Institute, and Dr Anthony Pick, from Barnsley consultancy KeramTech, are the men behind a new type of body armour made from ceramics.
Their armour weighs a third less than conventional armour, made from metal plates and is 15 per cent lighter than another ceramic armour, made from silicon carbide.
What’s more, the new material is formed at much lower furnace temperatures, which means less energy is required and less CO2 is produced during manufacturing, making the armour more environmentally friendly and cheaper to produce.
Early development work was funded by the Ministry of Defence’s Centre for Defence Enterprise, which supports UK-based industrial and academic innovations that have the potential to protect and assist UK Forces during operations.
Now, Drs Jones and Pick have won a £25,000 prize from the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, which will bring the new armour, made from a combination of several different ceramics, closer to full scale commercial production.
Dr Jones – who is a Freeman of the Sheffield-based Cutlers’ Company – said: “This product could reduce the burden on the infantry soldier, which is especially important in hot environments, and has the potential to be used in a number of armour systems, including vehicle armour.
“The commercial possibilities for new body armour material are enormous, with the European market alone having a potential of well over £20 million per year.
“What makes us confident of commercial success is that the material has another use; it can be used as the kiln furniture needed for the rapid firing of porcelain ceramic ware, with this market estimated at over €100 million per annum in Europe alone.”
The scientists’ success was welcomed by Master Cutler, Professor Bill Speirs.
He said: “I am delighted that this innovation by researchers from Sheffield Hallam University has been recognised in this way, particularly as one of the originators of this idea is a Freeman of the Company.
“We have had a relationship with the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers to develop skills for engineering and design since 1926.
“We have seen the world of manufacturing and technology change over the years and both companies recognise that innovation and technology are vital.”