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Armor Mythbusters: Do Ceramic Plates Expire?

Updated: Jan 19

*Disclaimer* All of our educational outreach and articles we write for free as a service and a way to give back to the community. We would appreciate it if you would keep us in mind for your next armor or gear purchase.

This is part of our Armor Mythbusters series, where we debunk common myths and misconceptions about body armor.

Now to preface this, we are NOT advocating buying used surplus armor or other used armor of questionable backgrounds. This article is only applicable when you know all of the variables (ie, a personal set you have owned since it was new), NOT old military or police surplus out of afghani conex boxes that could be damaged from use.

Our industry is unfortunately filled with a plethora of misinformation being perpetrated by dishonest individuals, social media influencers, Youtubers and frankly people who don't know any better. Unfortunately for us the ratio of incorrect information online about armor far outbalances the true and correct objective information about the topic. This is why it is my belief that those with the correct information should do their best to educate others and share the knowledge for the benefit of everyone.

Do Ceramic Plates Expire?

Now the big question. Do ceramic plates expire? Very simply put, properly made ceramic plates have no expiration. The expiration date on armor is the expiration of the manufacturers warranty. This is a way for manufacturers to limit their own liability as these companies carry multi-million dollar insurance plans in case of failure. Think of the warranty period as the period where the manufacturer guarantees it to work. Just like with 100,000 mile powertrain warranties on cars, it does not mean the plates will not meet or exceed performance specifications long after the warranty has expired. Take care of it, and it will continue to be dependable to save your life for decades. Key words, take care of it. If you leave it outside in the rain every day or throw it across the room onto concrete every day, there is no armor that will not suffer performance loss from such abuse.

Why Do Some Companies Write a Shelf Life?

Now why do some companies write a shelf life? Simple. Planned Obsolescence and recurring revenue. Any company who tells you their armor has a shelf life simply wants you to buy it again after a few years. Otherwise, how do you keep making money off of a product that should last decades? Now one disclaimer, the only people I recommend to absolutely replace armor right after the warranty expires is anyone using it in a duty capacity (military, law enforcement, EMT/ Fire), this is for life insurance purposes and usually department regulations. Why Do Ceramic Plates Not Expire? Any properly designed ceramic plate using the correct materials and manufacturing techniques should not have a shelf life or a lifespan in which it expires. A plate should not degrade or otherwise become unserviceable by simply sitting around in a room. The ceramic material in plates are inert and do not degrade over time. The backing material (typically Polyethylene or Aramid) also will not degrade to any significant degree. The individual layers of backing material are typically glued or heat pressed together, then bonded to the ceramic with a waterproof epoxy like adhesive. Then everything is wrapped in water resistant fabric and sealed. When properly manufactured, ceramic plates are incredibly durable and will withstand the test of time. It takes a lot more than most would think for this adhesive to separate. Armor becomes unserviceable through extended hard use, abuse and damage, not sitting around. For the average civilian, who trains once a month and takes care of their armor, you will not have to replace them for decades.

The military for example actually does not replace their ceramic ESAPI plates after a set lifespan (like 5 or 10 years). Instead they subject plates to periodic inspections. This generally includes Xraying for cracks, checking for delamination of the ballistic backer and refurbishing the nylon cover if it is found to not be structurally damaged.

You, can do the same at home with the simple "Tap and Torque Test" (Shown below in the attached official USMC educational video).

The tap test, where you tap the back of the plate with a metal object such as a folded pocket knife, checks for delamination of the ballistic backer. The torque test, where you torque and attempt to bend the plate from the edges, tests for cracks in the ceramic. If your armor passes both the tap and torque test, chances are, you are good to go. If you use your armor very lightly, you can do this test once every year to make yourself feel comfortable and safe. If you use your armor heavily, you can test it as often as you'd like. It does not damage the plate.

Again, this does not mean to go out and buy used police or military surplus plates off of the internet or Ebay. You have no way of inspecting the plate for internal damage before purchasing, and you will not get your money back if you end up getting a cracked and delaminated plate. This article is meant to inspire confidence in individuals who purchase quality plates NEW (regardless of who you buy them from) and take care of them.

Why This Article Does Not Apply To Cheap Chinese Plates:

Now the important part is the ceramic plate must be properly made this means purchasing from a reputable manufacturer, such as Highcom, LTC, RMA, Ceradyne, etc. This ensures you get a combination of quality materials that are assembled correctly and most importantly has a strong adhesive bond. This article frankly does not cover cheap Chinese plates. Most Chinese plates are made with lower tensile strength backing material and most importantly weaker or lower grade adhesives. They may work when they are new, but as those weak adhesives and the backer starts to separate, you will start to have issues. This is why heat pressing the backer and using a strong epoxy like adhesive is essential to having a well performing plate. The Hard Science: There's actually been studies done on the effectiveness of old damaged plates. One of which is named "The effect of cracks on the ballistic performance of contoured protective body armour plates". By Celia Watson et. al. for the 23rd International Symposium on Ballistics written in April 2007.

In this study, the goal was to evaluate the performance of cracked/ damaged, old British CBA plates (our equivalent of roughly a Level 3/ Level 3 ICW plate). While the primary goal of the experiment was to test the performance degradation from cracks in the ceramic, there was also a portion where they tested old, damaged, "expired" reject plates. They tested plates across 12 years of production, so since this was performed back in 2007, the oldest plate tested would have been made in 1995.

The portion we will be focusing on is the oldest batch, those were "damaged reject plates", so those were 12 years old, with visible external damage, and xrayed to confirm internal micro fractures. They found that the plate still performed 12% above contract/ design specifications, even after being damaged and being 12 years old.

The following is a table of the data they collected from the chart.

They concluded in the study, quote; "It was shown that both the A1 condition and pre-cracked plates from all year batches would meet the current UK/SC/4898[1] specification. The statistical analysis found that irrespective of plate condition (A1 or cracked) for most batches the (V05) is above the specified velocity limit." "No evidence was found of any construction effects, defects or deterioration due to age that resulted in a reduction in ballistic performance"

1970's Vietnam Era Ceramic Plates Being Shot (Video): Now that's hard science. The following is a Youtube video of a 1970's Vietnam era Ground Troops Variable Body Armor Plate being shot. This is the FIRST commercial example of a ballistic ceramic plate, so there is no older plate that could've been tested. The technology on these plates is old, but the same principles apply for ceramic plates made today.

These plates were made of a Boron Carbide Ceramic Core bonded to a woven fiberglass backer. Boron Carbide is a higher end type of ceramic, however woven fiberglass backers are generally no longer found in ceramic plates. Woven fiberglass backers would've been used in older, low end ceramic plates you could find in the early 2000's. Which is to say armor technology has only progressed since then, and if we were to repeat this test in 50 years with modern armor, we should see even better results.

These plates were rated for .30 Cal Ball (.30-06 FMJ soft lead core), which means this is a level 3(+) equivalent plate today. This individual shot it with M193 from an AR-15, 7.62x39 MSC from an AK-47, .308 M80 Ball from an M14 and finally 7.62x54R steel core from a Mosin Nagant (which penetrated).

This shows that even the oldest plates from 50+ years ago will still perform fine in a rudimentary test.

Why We Warranty All Our Armor For LIFE: With all this being said, we should be confident that our armor will far outlast the manufacturers warranty/ guarantee period as long as we purchase quality armor and take care of it. We don't really believe in profiteering here, which is why we provide a warranty on all of our armor (regardless of manufacturers warranty length) for life. If the plates we sell don't expire, why should the warranty? If you're ever shot while wearing armor bought from us, we'll replace it. Even if it's 50 years down the road.

*Disclaimer* All of our educational outreach and articles we write for free as a service and a way to give back to the community. We would appreciate it if you would keep us in mind for your next armor or gear purchase.

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