Bullet-Stopping, Next Generation Armor Plating Materials

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 15:18

In recent years, automotive trends have been heading in positive directions, with a wealth of green, efficient, and safety conscious initiatives arising in all segments. Unfortunately, in some cases, being safe on Mexico’s roads is not just about seatbelts and airbags, but also includes considering threats from dangerous criminals. As a result, Mexico is now the second largest manufacturer of bulletproof vehicles, with an estimated 4,000-4,500 produced per year, second only to Brazil’s 13,000 units.

One company on the frontlines of this battle is Centur Security Services. Centur develops specialized armor that protects and safeguards passengers from any would-be dangers. According to Gonzalo Santa María Silva, Director General of Centur Security Services, the largest client base for armored vehicles consists of private customers, of which Centur manages a 7% share. This group includes private civilians, as well as government and corporate officials, with most customers preferring a vehicle that looks and acts exactly as the original. Before armoring a vehicle, Centur must strip off all the interior components to reveal the chassis and body. The armor is then fitted with either adhesives or welding, depending on the material used. In order to maintain the weight, performance, and originality of each vehicle, Centur invests heavily in R&D focused on new processes and materials. The company uses materials such as aramid fibers and high density polyethylene, which are seven times lighter than the steel used in common armoring processes, while being more resistant. Discretion is achieved with a number of approaches, such as using a mold to make the armor exactly the same shape as the car’s body interior and chassis, and adjusting the suspension to maintain the height of the vehicle. On average, a Centur armored vehicle weighs between 180-350kg more than a non-armored unit, so these are necessary steps to maintaining the original form and dimensions of the car.

The latest innovation in Centur’s portfolio is a Brazilian material called NeoFlex, which evolved from Kevlar and is one of the most-used materials in the armor industry. NeoFlex is a specialty thermoplastic elastomer based on the chemistry of styrene block copolymers with exceptional resistance to UV and ozone aging, as well as several chemical agents that affect and weaken substitutes. The material was designed to resist a high quantity of impacts in one area, achieved through neoprene-coated aramid layering, permitting fusion between external and internal layers, such that it possesses an operating temperature from -40°C to 120°C with high elastic recovery. Neoflex can be made with a thickness of up to 5.7mm with a maximum weight of 6.5kg/m2, making it ideal for architectonic reinforcing without affecting the external appearance of an armored vehicle. NeoFlex has neoprene intertwined with each layer of material, adding complete imperviousness to any substance. Kevlar, on the other hand, loses ballistic properties when it gets wet due to the separation of layers in the material.

With such innovative products in its arsenal, Centur is poised to expand its presence in the private market, as well as to approach leasing companies for more mass volume contracts. Unlike other sectors, for which demand is less inelastic, quality and reliability are the most important factors within the armored car segment. Therefore, although Centur is not against increasing production volume, the company understands that the focus on improving processes and quality, as well as offering excellent customer focus, must remain a priority.