Throughout history, various improvements to body armor have been made. Simply put, we’ve come a long way since medieval chainmail. The most popular modern armor option is the bulletproof vest – worn by emergency services and military professionals worldwide.
But how is a bulletproof vest made? What does it consist of? How does it work? In this article, you’re going to learn a bit more about bulletproof vests and how they’re made.
Bulletproof vests are made in a way similar to your regular clothing. They consist of filaments and fibers, which are lightweight and naturally stronger than general clothing. Three materials are most commonly used with bulletproof vests.
The first one is more popular than the other two – Kevlar. The material dates back to 1971, when Stephanie Louise Kwolek, an American chemist, invented the material to make more resilient tires. Since then, Kevlar has found its primary use as body armor, given that its synthetic para-aramid fibers are strong and heat-resistant.
Kevlar is also five times stronger than steel while still being lighter.
Very similar to Kevlar. Although it uses a different filament/fiber arrangement, the effects are roughly the same.
The other material is called Dyneema. It’s also soft and flexible while still very resilient. Dyneema is better at keeping cool and is smoother to the touch. The resistance and strength it offers, though, is pretty much the same as with Kevlar.
The Manufacturing Process
There are four stages of the process of making a bulletproof vest.
The Panel Cloth
Everything begins with making the raw material. Depending on the material type, however, the first stage can be different.
Kevlar and Twaron
For these materials, the entire process starts in the lab. Poly-para-phenylene terephthalamide is made using the process of polymerization. With this process, individual polymer molecules are combined into long chains, which results in a chemical blend of crystalline liquid. Using a spinneret (a sieve-based metal plate), the Kevlar/Twaron fiber is made. When hardened, the fiber is wound, twisted, and finally made into Kevlar.
With Dyneema, the fibers are made out of spun filament. The fibers are laid parallel to one another and then coated with resin. The formed sheets are placed perpendicularly to each other. Then, they are bonded and secured, with sheets of polyethylene film between each. This is how the unidirectional sheets are made.
Suppose you’re looking for more heavy-duty and long-lasting protection. In that case, there are steel-plated body armor options that can stop high-caliber bullets, such as the RTS Tactical Ballistic Rifle Protection vest.
Once the material is made, it’s shipped to the manufacturer.
The Kevlar/Twaron/Dyneema cloth is laid onto a cutting table. Following the required size, the fabric is cut based on a pre-made pattern. This pattern is put on top of the cloth, and handheld cutting tools are used to cut around the pattern. To minimize material waste and optimize pattern placement, certain manufacturers use a computer-based system.
After the panel cutting, it’s time for sewing.
Using a stencil, the sewing pattern is marked out on the layer at the top. The manufacturers follow the pattern as it’s sewn to ensure that the vest is correctly made. When the panels are assembled, a size label is sewn in.
Kevlar vests are either quilt-stitched or box-stitched. The first forms diamonds of material that are separated by stitching. Box-stitching creates a large box on the vest.
There’s also Core Matrix Technology, which makes advanced stitching architectures unnecessary. Quite simply, Z-directional fibers are implanted straight into the stack.
The Finishing Stage
Using the unique vest shells, the ballistic panels are held in the correct position, ensuring that they are correctly placed against the body. This is an essential step in making sure that the vests are effective.
Finally, additional accessories are sewn in, such as straps and various pockets. Then, it’s time for quality control. Each vest that passes the QC is boxed up and prepared for shipment.
Seeing how bulletproof vests can genuinely make the difference between life and death, you probably want to learn a bit more about quality control (QC). Although most quality products go through a degree of QC testing, ballistic vest manufacturers go the extra mile in this department.
Bulletproof vests go through stringent protection testing that fulfills the NIJ (National Institute of Justice) requirements. After a series of tests, each protection classification is specified. Each ballistic vest model is quoted with the bullet type and velocity that won’t penetrate the vest.
The QC deals with the size labels, as well. In addition to the regular features that you’ll also find on typical pieces of clothing, the size label on bulletproof vests includes care instructions, protection rating, the lot number, the date of issue, the serial number, the confirmation that the QC testing has ensured that the product has met the NIJ standards, an indicator, showing which side of the vest faces which way, and a warning that indicates everything that the product doesn’t protect the wearer from.
During the QC, the vests are tested dry and wet. They are also put in different heat conditions. All these factors can influence the protection quality of a bulletproof vest.
Once a vest is NIJ-certified, you can rest assured that the information on the label will be correct. There are various inspections to ensure that your vest offers the cited protection.
The final line of testing is on the wielders of the product itself. Over the years, different bulletproof vest types have saved the lives of hundreds of emergency service and military personnel and even civilians.
Making Bulletproof Vests
As you can see, a bulletproof vest goes a long way from the material creation, all the way to QC. The manufacturing process is carefully supervised by the NIJ. They make sure that QC meets the standards.
Now that you know how ballistic vests are made, we hope that you’re more interested in equipping yourself with adequate protection for your own safety.
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