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What Distinguishes a High-Quality Hard Armor Plate from an Inferior One?

In a time where personal safety and protection are paramount due to volatile world events, the selection of hard body armor plates stands as a critical decision for law enforcement, military personnel, and civilians alike. A high-quality hard body armor plate is not just a piece of equipment but a lifeline in threatening situations. Below, we expand on the essential characteristics that define superior armor plates and outline the pitfalls to avoid with substandard options as well as the manufacturing characteristics that separates them both.


What Makes A Good Hard Armor Plate?


1. Reputable Manufacturers' Legacy:

Companies like Highcom, LTC, and Tencate, each with decades of armor manufacturing experience, have set industry standards. Their commitment to safety is evident in their consistent track record, absence of recalls, and pursuit of innovation. Choosing a plate from such manufacturers ensures that one benefits from years of research, development, and real-world testing. These manufacturers have a clean public record and a verifiable history of quality control.


2. Superior Materials:

The efficacy of a hard armor plate heavily relies on the materials used. Ceramics from reputable sources like Cerco, Bitossi, and Coorstek, combined with synthetic fibers like DSM Dyneema, Teijin Aramid, and Honeywell Spectra, offer excellent ballistic resistance. These materials are chosen for their high hardness, tensile strength, and ability to disperse the energy of a bullet upon impact, thereby reducing trauma. Reputable manufacturers such as Highcom, LTC and Tencate use these materials exclusively in the manufacturing of their armor.

DSM Dyneema product spec chart

3. Advanced Manufacturing Processes:

The bonding of ceramic to backing materials using high-quality adhesives and the formation of backers through hydraulic heat presses or autoclaves are indicators of a meticulously engineered plate. This process is called “consolidation” and it produces a denser and tougher ballistic backer. Compressing the layers of ballistic backing material forces the incoming bullet to expend more energy to break the layers apart (delamination), therefore dispersing more of the energy.

The same principle is applied with the strong adhesive bond between the ceramic and the backing material. Less separation of the material (delamination), the more hits the plate can take and the less energy transferred to the wearer.

These processes ensure that the armor not only provides optimal protection but also maintains its integrity and performance over time.


Hydraulic heat press for body armor

4. Rigorous Certification and Compliance:

Armor plates that are NIJ certified or meet military/federal standards for DOD contracts have undergone stringent testing to ensure they meet specific ballistic and environmental durability standards. This certification is a testament to the plate's ability to withstand various threats and conditions, offering peace of mind to the wearer.

Some plates are certified to earlier standards, like NIJ 0101.04, indicating a manufacturer's longstanding presence in the manufacturing industry. This means they have been producing (and certifying) plates prior to 2008. This has minimal affect on performance and is a great sign that a manufacturer has been in the field for decades.


NIJ testing program logo

5. Thoughtful and Purposeful Design:

The design of a hard armor plate should not compromise protection for the sake of reducing weight or thickness unless for a specific, purpose-built reason. For instance, concealable plates are designed for discretion but should still offer appropriate protection for its application. A well-designed plate balances these factors, ensuring the wearer's mobility without sacrificing safety. Certain manufacturers have danced along the edge of reliability and paid for it in the form of NIJ FIT (ballistic audit) failures, recalls and their NIJ certifications to be removed.


6. Continuous Quality Assurance:

The best armor manufacturers subject their products to regular testing and quality audits by third parties such as the NIJ or DOD contractors. This ongoing scrutiny guarantees that the plates meet the highest standards of quality and performance, even beyond the initial certification. Typically when manufacturers have a great deal of NIJ certified products, and or DOD contracts, they optimize their entire factory to meet the same high standards, ensuring that even plates that are not NIJ certified, receive the same treatment. It reflects a manufacturer's confidence in their product and commitment to user safety.


7. Guarantees and Insurance Backing:

A hallmark of quality in hard armor plates is the manufacturer's willingness to back their product with performance guarantees and substantial liability insurance. Reputable manufacturers will guarantee the performance of their product up to the standard it is rated for and they carry millions in liability insurance in case of a failure. This level of assurance speaks volumes about the confidence in the plate's performance and the company's commitment to its customers. Non reputable sources do not offer this commitment.

We only work with the highest tier manufacturers, which is why we are so confident to provide a lifetime warranty on all armor we sell.


Pitfalls to Avoid in Hard Body Armor Plates


- Inferior Adhesives and Construction:

Substandard plates, particularly those from non-reputable sources like some Chinese manufacturers, often use inferior adhesives that can lead to delamination and compromised structural integrity. Weak adhesives can cause the plate to split apart more easily which can lead to higher backface deformation, decreased multi hit abilities and decreased longevity.

Sometimes these plates can perform fine fresh off the press, but their performance can deteriorate quickly after just a year (unlike properly made plates). This flaw can significantly reduce the plate's effectiveness.


DFNDR hard armor backface deformation

- Unverified Material Quality:

The lack of consistent quality control and certification in some plates means that their protective capabilities can be unpredictable. Without NIJ oversight, manufacturers may change materials whenever they want to cut costs. With NIJ certified plates, you cannot change any part of the plate from when it was certified, up to including the fabric cover. This prevents certified plates from being tested/ certified with one formula, then changing to cheaper materials after testing.


- Deceptive Design Features:

Some plates utilize foam borders or "cheat rings" to give the illusion of comprehensive protection. This design compromise can leave the wearer vulnerable, especially at the plate's edges where protection is most needed. This means on many Chinese ceramic plates, the ceramic does not fully extend to the edge, leaving a 1-2” gap around the entire edge of the plate that is filled with foam. This gives the illusion of having a 10x12 plate, when in reality its 8x10.


Foam cheat rings on ceramic armor

Actual coverage area of a non edge to edge ceramic plate

- Steel Plate Limitations:

Despite their appearance of ruggedness, steel plates are prone to spalling and ricochet, posing additional risks. Their inability to stop M193 or even Tula .223 from barrels as short as 14.5”, combined with heavier weight and lower protection levels, makes them a less desirable choice compared to ceramic plates. Many manufacturers will perpetrate misinformation regarding ceramic plates to make steel plates seem like the more desirable choice. Properly made ceramic plates do not expire (strong glue), and they are not fragile (NIJ drop testing), they are also very much multi hit.

Steel armor plates are incredibly cheap to manufacture, leading to a significant incentive to promote the sale of steel over ceramics.


Steel plate spalling and delamination

- Legal and Accountability Concerns:

Plates manufactured in jurisdictions with different legal standards may offer little to no recourse in the event of failure. The absence of warranties or explicit disclaimers regarding performance and liability is a significant red flag.


Conclusion

The selection of hard body armor plates demands careful consideration of the manufacturer's reputation, material quality, design, and compliance with safety standards. By understanding the features that distinguish high-quality armor plates and being aware of the characteristics that signal inferior products, individuals can make informed decisions that enhance their safety and effectiveness in the field. Opting for proven, certified, and well-designed hard armor plates is an investment in personal security and peace of mind.


Want to learn more about armor or you are wanting to buy? Click (HERE) for our buyers guide.


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