If you have ever purchased body armor before, you probably know that you have the option of choosing between hard and soft armor plates. However besides those that primary decision, there are still a few choices you have to make. You need to decide whether you will go for hard steel, ceramic, or polyethylene plates. To help you come up with a wise and informed decision, here is a quick overview of the different materials used for hard armor plates and the pros and cons of each one.
Steel is the most in demand option which has been originally produced and used commercially ever since World War II.
Fillipo Negroli was credited for the first recorded use of steel bulletproof armor. He was commissioned to come up with an armor that possessed the ability to stop a bullet. It was in 1561 when this the first successful product was created. Since then, there has been a continuous evolution in the design of steel plates making them more effective. The armor of earlier times pales in comparison to today to meet the increasing needs to protect people from stronger firearms today. When used head on with high powered ammunition, plates made from steel don’t disappoint. They can stop many types of rounds and shrapnel. Steel plates count on their hardiness to cause an impacting round to fracture, mushroom and then spread on impact.
Steel armor plates are widely available and used but do not necessarily make the most effective choice. While steel and the plates made from it can provide a good deal of protection, there is no denying that it is also relatively heavy. Steel armor plates also tend to cause excessive spalling which can then lead to secondary fragmentation injuries from the resulting shrapnel.
Weighing 8 to 10 pounds, steel is also much heavier compared to ceramic and polyethylene plates, but it is also the most affordable of of the three.
Another more recent choice when it comes to hard armor plates is the ceramic plates. This specific kind of armor plate were used in operation Desert Storm although it was not used as personal body armor. The ceramic armor plates were put to use to protecting the British Challenger Tanks which reported very little resulting damage from enemy fire. After the application of ceramic plating to personal armor, its benefits were clearly visible.
Primarily, ceramic plates are much lighter. There are also instances when these can provide equal protection but weigh a fraction of the weight a steel plate the same size would. It’s an essential factor, particularly in a combat situation where fatigue and speed could mean the difference between life and death. A primary drawback of the ceramic plates though is that they cannot take precision fire to the same location of the plate multiple times. A 7.62mm round may damage up to 3” of space on the ceramic plate. Ceramic plating is made to break up on impact which is crucial to help it stop bullet fire. The problem is that the part breaking can’t stop any rounds. This fragility means that ceramic plates could be broken or cracked if they’re handled in incorrectly, reducing their combat effectiveness. If you are considering buying a ceramic plate, ensure its condition and treat is with more care than your average plate.
Polyethylene (UHMWPE) Plates
PE or Polyethylene is essentially thermoplastic. Polyethylene armor is made by bonding unidirectional Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene Fibers over the High Density Polyethylene sheet. Such sheets are place in mold, cut to shape, and compressed under high pressure and heat, which results to a cohesive hard armor plate. These plates take advantage of friction caused by a bullet’s spin. The friction melts the polyethylene and adheres to the round. When stopped, the polyethylene re-hardens and cools down.
Typically, you may hit polyethylene with many rounds and encounter no immediate issues since it does not impact a large surrounding area once the bullet land. The quality of the process and raw materials however, used for bonding would play a role in the deformation of the back face and plate’s ability to withstand different rounds without delaminating.
Polyethylene plates weigh between two to five pounds, which make them lighter in comparison to steel and up to seventy percent lighter compared to ceramic plates. The tradeoff is that it isn’t possible currently with the available materials and procedures to mass produce Level IV Plating at a commercial level, which means it isn’t rated to stop armor piercing rounds. In addition to that, polyethylene plates can be 200-300% more expensive than ceramic and steel plating.
If you are deciding between the various types of hard armors, each material has pros and cons. Depending on your needs or preference, the choice is yours. However, it is important to do your research before making any final decisions. Your budget is also an essential consideration. With this, you can be assured that you have made the right choice and you will be able to get the best value of what you have spent.
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