The technology of Verco Materials began in Professor Robert Speyer’s laboratory in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Georgia Tech. He built an instrument called a differential dilatometer which could go to very high temperatures, and used it to study the sintering of boron carbide.
Sintering is the heat treatment of a shaped compressed compact of powder, whereby the particles fuse together without melting and (preferably) all of the pore space between the particles is eliminated. Boron carbide (B4C) has never sintered well so it was a good academic challenge. Dr. Speyer’s group came to understand the impediments to sintering and found ways around them, so that ballistic grade (meaning pore-free) boron carbide could be formed. A large armor plate (ESAPI) manufacturer makes plates out of boron carbide by hot pressing, which sinters the powder by application of high pressure as well as high temperature. The problem with this method is that it can only form simple shapes. Dr. Speyer’s method results in a ceramic with superior ballistic properties, and without shape restriction.
Verco Materials, LLC is a Georgia Tech spinoff company which has scaled up this technology for commercial and military applications. Verco has a current armor development contract with the U.S. Army Soldier’s System Center at Natick, has a cooperative agreement with the Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD, and a large contract with DARPA for armor development. These funds have allowed Verco to put together a manufacturing capability for boron carbide, and a new silicon carbide. Silicon carbide (SiC) is heavier than boron carbide, but does better against some more aggressive threats. Verco’s new silicon carbide has a much higher hardness than commercial silicon carbide arrmors, and correspondingly better ballistic behavior.
Since Verco’s process requires some very specialized equipment, its focus is on boutique armor applications. A variety of extremity armor systems have been prototyped, as well as a new flexible armor system, which is much lighter and has many design improvements over past flexible armor designs. While this system is under continued development, initial ballistic tests against advanced armor piercing rifle threats were outstanding both from a stopping and multi-hit point of view.