University-made armour puts safety first

Invention: Dr Hywel Jones
Invention: Dr Hywel Jones
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Ultralight ceramic body armour, developed at Sheffield Hallam University, is being ballistically tested by the Ministry of Defence.

The armour, developed by Dr Hywel Jones, from the University’s Materials and Engineering Research Institute, and Dr Anthony Pick, who heads a ceramic consultancy in Barnsley, weighs a third less than conventional armour, made from metal plates.

It is 15 per cent lighter than another widely used ceramic armour, made from silicon carbide and is formed at much lower furnace temperatures, which means less energy is required and less CO2 is produced during manufacturing, making it more environmentally friendly and it is cheaper to produce.

The inventors recently won a £25,000 prize from the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, which they plan to use to use to commercialise the armour, which is made from a combination of several different ceramics.

But, according to the leading manufacturing magazine, The Engineer, the MoD is currently testing the armour’s ability to both stop bullets and prevent behind-armour blunt trauma - serious injuries that can occur even when a bullet does not penetrate the armour.

“The ceramic is mostly destroyed in the region hit. People think the bullet just bounces off, but most armour-piercing rounds will actually shatter the ceramic and a lot of the energy is absorbed in that impact,” says Dr Jones.