A Safer Ride
As the demand for ceramic armor increases, so too does the need for an experienced engineering resource. "With this expansion, we can help prevent vehicle manufacturers from going into another round of costly design changes for armor components on future vehicles. We are already working closely with prime contractors as well as the government to ensure that we are ahead of their requirements in the future," says Marc King, vice president of Ceradyne's Armor Operations.
Solid BeginningsTo say that Ceradyne has experience in engineering ceramic armor is a bit of an understatement. Initially a research-
oriented company founded by Joel Moskowitz in 1967, Ceradyne installed its first hot press in 1970 and began a development program for lightweight ceramic armor-originally for military helicopters-in 1971. The company brought its ceramic armor into full production in the 1980s.
Although military spending on ceramic armor waned over the next decade, Ceradyne remained steadfast in its armor research and development efforts. This dedication began to pay off in the 1990s, as lightweight ceramic body armor gradually started to replace much heavier steel systems. Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We were in the right place at the right time, primarily because of our ability to make large quantities of theoretically dense, fine-grained boron carbide ceramics and the technology to assemble them into very effective, rugged, ballistically sound body armor systems," Moskowitz was quoted as saying in a previous Ceramic Industry article.1
"Traditionally, the high price of ceramic has been a big barrier," says Kurilla, now director of the new Wixom facility. "However, as the volume of ceramic vehicle armor has increased, prices have begun to drop. Additionally, ceramic is 50% lighter, which can provide a big savings on fuel and maintenance requirements over the life of the vehicle. What good is a protective vehicle if it requires constant maintenance on the tires, brakes, etc., due to all the extra weight of steel armor? When you really compare the life cycle of the two materials, ceramic comes out ahead in terms of durability and fuel economy," Kurilla says.
While such benefits are significant, ceramic vehicle armor has also faced another significant hurdle-few companies have had experience designing with ceramic materials. For Ceradyne, this challenge presented a unique opportunity. Why not leverage its extensive ceramic experience to provide engineering and design support in this emerging field?
A Strategic LocationAt first, Lexington, Ky., looked like the ideal location for Ceradyne's new Vehicle Armor Systems facility. The company had acquired a 115,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Lexington in October 2003 for the manufacture of diesel engine components and ceramic body armor plates, and the city was eager to see further expansion. But Ceradyne's major vehicle armor customers, including the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) and the U.S. Army's Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), are both headquartered in Warren, Mich., near Detroit. Suppliers of vehicle-related components and services are also in the Detroit area, along with Ford, General Motors and Daimler-Chrysler.
"We wanted to be located close to our customer base so that we could provide the best support possible," says Kurilla.
An incentive package from the state of Michigan and the city of Wixom-which included a single business tax credit valued at more than $946,000-sealed the deal. In exchange, Ceradyne had to promise that the new state-of-the-art facility would create a minimum of 25 jobs over the next five years. Given the potential for ceramic vehicle armor, Kurilla sees this figure as an easy target. In fact, he envisions that the site will eventually expand beyond designing and engineering prototypes into the actual production of the ceramic vehicle armor systems, which are currently manufactured in Ceradyne's Costa Mesa, Calif., facility. Although Ceradyne has yet to claim any additional space in Wixom, a new facility that is already under construction directly adjacent to the existing building could provide an easy opportunity for expansion. Another vacant lot nearby offers additional promise.
"Many other companies in the vehicle armoring industry don't have true engineering and design capabilities, so that gives Ceradyne Vehicle Armor Systems an advantage. As more people begin to recognize the benefits of ceramic vehicle armor, the opportunity for growth is significant," Kurilla says.
A Promising FutureInside the new facility, the initial crew of 10 experienced automotive engineers-five in design and five in prototyping-is hard at work on several projects that have already been brought in. The company closely collaborates with its customers to tailor the armor to the vehicle and its intended application. "The weight capability of the vehicle is key," notes Kurilla. "Even though ceramic armor weighs much less than steel, there is still some extra weight involved, and the vehicle has to be rated to handle that weight. We get involved at the very earliest stages of design to help ensure that the armor system is completely optimized."
The company is working with the military on vehicle armor for use in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for the military's "future combat systems" and "future technical trucks." Commercial applications are also under development. According to Kurilla, next-generation projects will include "clear ceramics," such as glass-ceramic compositions, sapphire and aluminum oxynitride (AlON). Until now, such materials have been too expensive for widespread use. However, the current "bulletproof glass" systems are extremely heavy, so lighter-weight materials are needed. The company is also continuously working on new ways to combine materials-such as steel, ceramics and glass-to come up with creative armor solutions.
"We want to be known as the premier vehicle armor engineering and development facility," Kurilla says.
Reference1. "Profiles of Leadership: Advanced Ceramics," Ceramic Industry, Vol. 154, No. 10, p. 19, online at http://www.ceramicindustry.com.
Ceradyne Vehicle Armor Systems can be reached at Dennis Industrial Complex, 50370 Dennis Ct., Bldg. B, Wixom, MI 48393; (248) 960-9339; fax (248) 960-9338; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Ceradyne, Inc., contact the company at 3169 Redhill Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; (714) 549-0421; fax (714) 549-5787; e-mail email@example.com; or visit http://www.ceradyne.com.