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A bullet-resistant vest (ballistic vest) is a personal body armor worn on the torso to reduce or prevent the penetration and absorb the impact caused by any projectiles from firearms such as bullets. Over the years, different people have developed their body protection gear worn during combat. Various cultures used different materials including skin, steel plates, many layers of linen, woven plant fiber, animal scales, or even bones. Whichever the kind of gear used, the aim was to prevent harm during combat. In the current world, various classes of bullet-resistant vests exist depending on the type of protection they offer: some protect against lead bullets moving at a low velocity while other protect against full metal bullets at a high velocity. This essay discusses the process of manufacturing a bullet-resistant vest.
The Manufacturing Process
Bullet-resistant vests consist of vest-shaped plastic polymer sheets composed of several layers of either Spectra Shield, Twaron, Bynema, or even Kevlar, and a panel. They absorb the impact of the shot by spreading the bullet’s force (Singh, Malik, & Lather, 2013). According to Engel (2014), the velocity and the type of a bullet determines which vest to use. In high-combat areas, the vests need to have armor plates to prevent being shot at by faster round rifles. Kevlar is a liquid polymer with a high strength and can be spun into a fiber used to manufacture bullet-resistant vests. If Kevlar layers are used, they are woven together and then sewn using a Kevlar thread. Kevlar threads, which are created using polymerization, can be spun into yarn, then combined to form a cloth that can be used to manufacture the same. In cases where a Spectra Shield is used, Spectra fibers containing polyethylene polymer filaments are bonded together in parallel. The layers are then coated then bonded with each other using various resins such as Kraton. The Spectra panels are then fitted into ready-made pouches or pockets on the vest. They are, therefore, fixed to the vest without any adhesion or sewing.
The panel is placed inside a fabric shell made of either nylon or a cotton/polyester blend and thus provides protection but hardly any comfort. On the shell side facing the body, a sheet of some absorbent material such as Kumax is sewn onto it providing a more comfortable surface. For extra protection, the bullet-resistant vest may be fitted with additional nylon padding. Those vests that are designed to be worn in combat areas have inbuilt pouches that hold either ceramic or metal plates fixed to fiberglass. An advantage of such vests is that they offer protection from car accidents or even stabbing. Various devices are used to keep the vest in place. Occasionally, the sides of the bullet-resistant vests are fitted with elastic webbing while in other cases, the vests are either secured using elastic or cloth straps with Velcro closures, or metallic buckles.
Depending on the user of the vest, the manufacturing process of a vest is done to fit a certain customer’s protection need or size. However, independent of a user’s preferences, all vests are produced to meet strict protection regulations and meet the standard clothing industry’s sizes, for example, a vest can be 38 cm long or 32 cm short. The vests are then displayed in the market for sale or delivered to the customer.
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Making the Panel Cloth
The first process of manufacturing a bullet-resistant vest is the making of the panel cloth. As mentioned above, polymerization is used to produce the polymer poly-para-phenylene tere-phthalimide, which is used to make Kevlar. Polymerization includes mixing molecules to form long chains leading to the formation of a crystalline liquid. A Kevlar yarn is formed after the rod-shaped liquid polymers are forced out through a spinneret, which is a tiny plate made of metal with small holes (looks like a shower head). For the yarn to harden, it is passed through a cooling bath. It is then wound onto rolls. The fiber is then taken to throwsters that twine it for weaving. Various patterns are used during weaving including the tabby (under and over pattern of threads that alternatively join) or the plain weave. For Spectra vests, resins are used to seal and coat the fibers together, forming a sheet of Spectra cloth. Two sets of Spectra cloth sheets are then placed at right angles to each other, then glued to form a piece of fabric that is not woven, which then gets put into two polyethylene films.
Cutting the Panels
The next step is the cutting of the panels. After the cloth is obtained from the throwster in large rolls, the cloth is unrolled on cutting tables long enough to allow a couple of panels to be cut at the same time. The layers of the materials needed are put on the cutting table depending on the protection level required by the customer. A cutting piece with a similar pattern as the pieces used for sewing is then put on layers of cloth. Manufacturers who need maximum efficiency during this process use computer graphics system. A worker then cuts around the cutting piece, forming panels using a machine that is hand-held. The machine has a 15- centimeter cutting wheel.
Sewing the Panels
After cutting the panels, the next step is sewing them together. For Spectra shields, no sewing is required since after the panels are cut and piled together in layers, the layers are just placed in the tight and fitting pockets made in the vest. Bullet-resistant vests made from Kevlar, on the other hand, are either box-stitched or quilt-stitched. During quilt-stitching, small diamonds on the cloth form are separated by the stitching while in box-stitching, one large box forms in the middle of the vest. Box stitching requires less labor, provides an easy sewing time, and allows the vest to move freely. This method is in contrast to quilt stitching that is labor intensive and complicated sewing process. Quilt-stitching provides a more rigid panel that is hard to move away from areas that are vulnerable.
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A stencil is put over the stacks by workers to aid in the sewing; then chalk is rubbed on the areas that are exposed. A sewer then stitches the stacks together using the pattern made by the chalk. After this process is completed, a size label is sewn on the panel.
Joining the Shells
The last step required for the bullet-resistant vest to be ready for the market is joining of the shells. Standard sewing practices and machines are used to sew the panel shells to each other, and then the panels are placed inside the sewn shells. Accessories required for the vest to be complete such as buckles and straps are also sewn on. The vest is then delivered to various outlets for sale or the customer.
Human beings have strived to develop various types of gears to protect them during combat. Depending on the user’s preference, various classes of bullet-resistant vests exist. The only difference between these vests are the materials used during the manufacturing process. Two components are majorly used in the development of these vests: Kevlar and Spectra. A Kevlar fiber is produced in the laboratory through a process called polymerization; then the thread is sewn together to make the Kevlar vest. Spectra vests, on the other hand, are not sewn together but glued together. Various tests need to be carried out as required by different policies and regulations to ensure maximum protection of the vests. Research should also be conducted to provide better vests that are lighter in weight and more effective in saving lives.