In early 2010, the California-based company developed a hybrid composite flat panel for use in military vehicles and shelters. After partnering with Wintec Industries in Houston that summer, LCOA realized they could use this same panel to fill a gap in the ballistics mitigation shield market. “There are three types of shields,” explains Rob Wassem, vice president of Business Development. “First the riot shield, which mitigates sticks and stones but doesn’t have ballistic characteristics. Second, there’s the ballistic shield that does stop the equivalent of a .44 Magnum. Yet at two feet by four feet (a total of 8-feet of surface space), it weighs between 18 to 20 pounds and can be difficult to navigate, especially with a weapon in one hand. Thus, the demand for the third and lighter weight shield has grown and begins to expand.”
Composite shields have been on the ballistics mitigation market since the 1990s, but recent technology has allowed manufacturers to decrease weight and increase production. LCOA surveyed users and discovered that by using the newly developed hybrid composite flat panel, they could create a product that was five pounds lighter than the nearest competitor. “Most clients are familiar with ballistic standards, but I was surprised at the number of them who are unfamiliar with recent technology,” he says. “Most are familiar with ballistic ratings, but not the technology on how the shields are manufactured.”
Manufacturing the DeadStop
To manufacture the product, LCOA had to modify its manufacturing process from a post-forming standpoint. “Most products we manufacture are flat panel projects. This project required us to take the flat panel and use an autoclave system to create a curved shield,” says Wassem. “Our biggest concern with this process was maintaining the integrity and performance of the material as we shaped it into a shield. We use a hybrid composite made of a high-density, ultra lightweight fiber and resin. And while due to proprietary restrictions, I can’t tell you exactly what it is—it’s not an aramid or carbon fiber composite—it’s considered an UHMPE (ultra high molecular polyethylene) hybrid.” Through four months of R&D, including two months of tweaking and trial and error, LCOA discovered the right amount of heat to apply during autoclave to cure the shield without creating a ripple effect on the surface.
Once the flat panel has been pressed and then curved in the autoclave, a bezel is inserted to hold the glass-view in place as well as a handle to create a final product. From there, the product is put through company testing as well as external testing. “Anyone in the marketplace has to have credibility,” says Wassem. “We did the V050 test, which is a standard test to see if a ballistics shield can withstand a shot from a .44 Magnum at 15 feet. Then, we sent it off to HP White and Chesapeake Labs, two very respectable labs, and gave them a 15×15-foot panel to see if the product can withstand five shots; one in each corner of the shield and one in the middle. One of the good things about using a hybrid composite is that the shield absorbs the bullet, creating a 1-inch deformation, instead of ricochet or splintering off.”