Steel Rifle Plates- Make Sure You Buy Quality!

Posted: July 29, 2017 in Armor Testing, Opinion

A recent hubbub surrounding a manufacturer of steel plates for body armor highlights the importance of choosing a good manufacturer.

It has come to light that this company used the excellent Armox Advance (manufactured by SSAB in Sweden, a reputable and highly respected company) to make their newest plates, which on the surface had impressive specs: .196″ thick (before coating) and under 5 lb. for a 10X12 plate, in a complexly curved plate (almost unheard of). They claimed that the plates would stop M193 at 3100+ FPS, which based on the capabilities of the steel, they should have. Seemed too good to be true.

And it was.

Several testers immediately reported that the plates were failing, and failing rather dramatically at well below the stated velocity threshold.

Some sleuthing (which uncovered a patent application by this company), showed that in order to press the plates into the comfortable multi-curve profile, the company had…wait for it…ANNEALED the blanks.

To my non-metallurgist readers, that means the plates were heated up to what is known as critical temperature (around 1600 F for this particular steel), which removes all hardness. The plates were then apparently re-heated and re-hardened (NOT by SSAB, but by the company in question) after forming. Which is why the failures should surprise no-one.

There are no free lunches.

Steel for body armor is certified by the manufacturer, right up to the point it is meddled with.

Stripping the factory heat treat to make it easier to bend can turn a previously excellent steel into just another piece of random plate. 80% of a given high performance steel’s properties are in the heat treat, the remaining 20% are the chemistry and how the piece is shaped/engineered. Thinking that they could equal the heat-treat of SSAB using standard commercial methods was pure irresponsible hubris, and could have cost lives. There is a reason curved Armox Advance plates are rare, and usually single curve.

Unfortunately, it is incidents like this that give steel rifle plates an undeservedly bad reputation, and it is up to reviewers and end-users to educate themselves. Purchase steel plates from well-known, vetted companies such as Patriot Plate, Spartan, AR500, and others.

And while it is laudable to want to innovate and improve, manufacturers of body armor need to have a grasp of some basic, basic fundamentals of the materials they are working on, and rigorously test their product in-house (the above issue would have been avoided had the company in question actually tested the finished plates before letting them out the door).

It is my hope that this company will do the right thing and refund the money of their customers that purchased these plates, and replace them with plates that have been tested and pass QC.

As always, do your homework, and I will do my part to get this information to the end users.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. John Hogen says:

    What do you think of surplus Russian steel ballistic plates?

  2. drmorgear says:

    John, the quality varies quite a bit. I am inclined to say stick to CONUS produced steel plates at this time. With the price of good quality US mill plates, there’s no reason to risk it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s