R&D - base for protection solutions
The activities in both the US and Europe of TenCate Advanced Compsites focus on composite and ceramic armour solutions for vehicle, aircraft, naval and personal protection and the armour plating of aircraft and naval vessels. In the US significant full-time engineering resources are evaluating currently available ballistic fibres and polymers, in order to develop anti-ballistic unidirectional materials for use in the company’s own hard armour solutions, as well as to sell as soft armour rolled goods to open markets.
In Nijverdal the company works on concepts and applications for soft armour, on new prepregs for hard armour end-applications and the ongoing development of the TenCate Pro-Tector® technology.
At TenCate Advanced Armor USA, Joe Dobriski is responsible for the efforts in the field of R&D in the United States, while his counterpart in Europe are Helle Specht in Denmark and Robert Lenferink in Nijverdal.
R&D with applied technology
In fact within TenCate Advanced Armour it’s a question of combining R&D with applied technology. This combination offers the customer a series of solutions on the basis of lighter, better and more cost-effective materials. Products where the cost price is a contributory factor in the purchase also account for part of the sales. "Threat levels are constantly changing. We have to ensure the best available protection not only for soldiers and civilians in war zones but also with an eye to terrorist attacks. With a wide range of products and R&D as our strength, we can project a distinctive image."
The R&D process – what and how?
The R&D process embraces design, construction, ballistic tests and analysis. This empirical cycle is repeated until the optimal solution is realized. Granulates, fibres, composites, adhesives, cling foil, ceramics, coatings, paints and metals – all are grist for the mill during the development process. Combinations of no less than 76 different materials or forms of material have been used in the armour systems developed to date. As soon as new material concepts have been tested, the R&D engineers determine the segment or segments where the materials will ultimately be applicable. After that, the optimalization of the concept begins.
The test data are processed in statistical manners, which serve to underline the fact that the material or system meets all requirements and the chance of disappointing performances is negligible. Maybe it’s a question of development projects for the short term; maybe applications for which as yet no solution is available. Sometimes it takes several months to come up with the right solution, whereas for shorter-horizon projects it may be a matter of only a few weeks.
Internal cooperation in R&D
TCAA’s US and European armour groups cooperate to maximize their ability to share concepts and solutions and win on a global scale. Different test standards and requirements apply in the US and in Europe and market demands often differ. This can present challenges to proliferating solutions globally but enough commonality exists to foster excellent cooperative efforts.
The teams meet up at least twice a year to discuss ongoing projects. A great deal of exchange is conducted by e-mail, although this exchange is limited because of the legislation known as the International Trade Administration Regulations (ITAR), as well as other restrictions imposed by government authorities. Last year, however, the United States Department of State issued TenCate Advanced Armour with a Technical Assistance Agreement that allows technical information to be exchanged. ‘And from that moment on cooperation became possible. Consequently our mutual communication is now a little more profitable and we’re managing to be more competitive when it comes to new tenders.’ By intensifying the cooperation between the Advanced Armour, Aerospace Composites and the Protective Fabrics groups we would gain clout in the antiballistics market.
External cooperation in R&D
To stay abreast of all the developments and changes, there’s nothing like direct contact with the customers. This is the reason why the technical people on the sales team are also involved in R&D. They know the customers and listen to their wishes and demands – which are then well documented. Through their involvement in projects, developments can be tuned to the wishes of the customer or user. This makes it possible to set priorities for certain projects and is also useful with an eye to both assignments in progress and those in the future. Naturally the technologists also take part in conferences, trade fairs and specialized training courses. Finally there are military advisers attached to the R&D group, who contribute information relating to their own specific background. Thus, R&D teams in the US and Europe give substance to technological innovation and product differentiation, two of the four cornerstones of the TenCate business model.