Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bullet Resistant Laminates and Transparent Armor

One statement that we often hear is that Polycarbonate is “bullet-proof”. There are two problems with this statement; the first is that a single Polycarbonate sheet by itself should not be used to stop bullets as it really offers very little protection. The second problem is subtle, materials constructed from Polycarbonate are not bullet-proof but rather bullet-resistant; fire enough shots of high enough caliber and velocity and they will eventually fail.

There has been a need in both the civilian and military sectors to develop glazing materials with bullet-resistance. There are a number of ways of achieving this bullet resistance depending on the required stopping power, cost and weight restrictions. While this article cannot cover all of the options in detail, we will try to give an overview of the options:

1) Perhaps the easiest to make and the cheapest product to buy is specially designed Acrylic sheet that has been specifically tested for bullet resistance. Typically a 1.25” thick Acrylic sheet such as Plexiglas SBAR will stop a 9mm bullet as tested by UL.752 Level 1 test. To get increased stopping power, it is necessary to increase the thickness to 1.375”. At this thickness Plexiglas SBAR product will stop a 0.357” shell as tested by UL.752 Level 2 test. The limitation of this technology is the thickness required to achieve greater stopping power becomes difficult to produce and difficult to install due to the size and the weight.

2) The next option is to use a combination of Acrylic and Polycarbonate. This method is used by Sheffield Plastics, amongst others, in their Hygard BR range. The Acrylic and Polycarbonate are laminated together in various configurations in a vacuum chamber using an interlayer to bond the sheets together. The 9mm UL.752 Level 1 protection is achieved by laminating a ½” acrylic sheet between two layers of 1/8” Polycarbonate. The acrylic sheet absorbs the energy while the more flexible Polycarbonate holds the structure together and prevents shards of Acrylic breaking off and injuring the person behind the window. It can be seen that this type of structure is only 0.75” thick to achieve the Level 1 protection compared to 1.25” for the SBAR product. The 0.357 Level 2 protection is achieved by sandwiching two 3/8” Acrylic sheets between two outer 1/8” Polycarbonate sheets giving a total thickness of 1.0”. A UL.752 Level 3 protection, which uses a Magnum 0.44” has a similar construction that is 1.25” thick. These multiple layer plastic constructions offer greater protection from a thinner material, but at the downside of a greater cost.

3) The next option is to introduce glass. Different companies use different options for the configuration, but nearly all of them use glass bonded to Polycarbonate using inter-layers. Typically one or two sheets of 1/8” Polycarbonate are used. The glass absorbs the energy of the ballistics material and the Polycarbonate holds the material together. Often a sheet of Polycarbonate is put on the inside surface to act as a “spall” layer. This layer prevents shards of glass breaking off and injuring the person behind the glass. This type of option is often used in armoring commercial automobiles for VIPs or diplomats. Using the glass gives additional stopping power, but at the expense of cost and additional weight.

4) The next option moves from the area of commercial ballistics laminates to military transparent armor. These laminates often use multiple layers of glass and multiple layers of Polycarbonate – both as spall shields and internal structures. The completed laminates are often many inches thick and can stop a wide range of military projectiles. Often several different types of glass can be used in a single window to give different properties, the hardness of the glass and the energy absorption of the glass are two such properties. Many of the configurations used by different companies are confidential. The performance of these materials is excellent but they are costly and extremely heavy.

5) The final option is to use advanced materials for the construction of the transparent armor. These materials include ALON, Sapphire and Spinel. Details of these materials can be found on the websites of their manufacturers. While these materials offer exceptional protection they are extremely expensive and often the production process can only produce small parts.

At HighLine Polycarbonate we have a great deal of experience in transparent armor. We have developed a Polycarbonate grade that gives increased performance and stopping power in military laminates compared to other commercial grades of Polycarbonate. We have also developed an advanced thermoplastic sheet, which is more flexible than Polycarbonate and gives a significant improvement in performance when used as a spall shield. The material is lighter than Polycarbonate and is resistant to a wide range of chemicals and solvents, making it ideally suited to use in military transparent armor.

At HighLine Polycarbonate we also are able to include EMI/RFI shielding meshes, transparent conductive heaters, self-repairing coatings, anti-fog coatings, super abrasion resistant coatings, IR shielding and anti-microbial properties – all of which enable our products to be used in the harshest of military environments.


  1. Interesting stuff - I never knew there were so many options.

    Has anybody every tried nano-reinforcement? I'm not try to hop on the nano-bandwagon (is there still any room?) but I'm thinking more in terms of the optical properties. Anything nano is too small to scatter light so it would still be clear.

  2. I believe that the optical ceramics such as ALON are being modified at a nano-scale. At the moment I am not aware of work being done on Polycarbonate or Acrylic at a nano-scale with the specific goal of improving ballistics performance. This area could be an avenue for future research.
    Where we are looking at a nano-scale is the coatings. We are examining options to improve transparent conductive heaters and to create super-hydrophobic coatings.