Safer, lighter, combat gear with new tech

The Smart Think's helmets reduce the risk of serious head injuries significantly, without making them heavier, says the Singapore-Australian firm headquartered here.
The Smart Think's helmets reduce the risk of serious head injuries significantly, without making them heavier, says the Singapore-Australian firm headquartered here.PHOTO: THE SMART THINK

S'pore-Aussie firm using S'pore as launchpad for its products

A new Singapore-Australian firm is set to commercialise technology that it says can make lighter, cheaper, yet safer combat helmets and body armour.

Developed by an Australian defence science research company - Defence Material Technology Centre or DMTC - it makes combat helmets 25 per cent lighter than those made using traditional methods, yet with improved safety performance.

The new company headquartered here, called The Smart Think (TST), was launched to advance and sell the products made with the technology using Singapore as the launchpad. It was set up in February by two Singaporean investors and an Australian scientist.

The firm has also pioneered a new production method for a body armour that is safer and lighter while being 50 per cent cheaper to produce. This is also ready to be commercialised.

"With armour that is lighter and more versatile, soldiers will be more agile, thus promoting their safety," said Singaporean Adrian Tan, 61, one of the directors and investors of the company.

"The fact that it is more affordable also means more soldiers can benefit, saving more lives."

Mr Tan said the technology was developed at Deakin University over the past 10 years.

Combat helmets are usually made with para-aramid or polyethylene materials. Although heavier, para- aramid materials such as Kevlar, are more commonly used because they cost one-third the price of polyethylene.

The patent-pending innovation by DMTC draws on the best qualities of both materials, by making para-aramid helmets with the weight of polyethylene ones, while improving safety performance and maintaining lower costs.

The pioneering technology, developed by a group of seven Australian scientists, is a spliceless method that converts a two-dimensional stack of ballistics material onto a three-dimensional object without the need for traditional fabric splicing, which makes the helmet heavier.

While TST has yet to secure a major contract, its products have performed well in independent tests.

The Ballistic and Mechanical Testing centre in Australia - an independent ballistic testing facility accredited with the Australian National Association of Testing Authorities - noted that the technology developed by TST and DMTC "are at the forefront of defence innovation".

In terms of performance, TST's helmets reduce the risk of serious head injuries, such as head trauma, significantly, without making the helmet heavier, by reducing backface deformation by 68 per cent, said the firm's chief technology officer Tristan Alexander, 28.

Backface deformation refers to how much an armour deforms when hit by a projectile.

Professor Gan Chee Lip, 43, director of defence science research institute Temasek Laboratories at Nanyang Technological University, said the technology developed by TST was "interesting" and had potential for further commercialisation.

"There are potential applications for the technology beyond combat helmets for military use. It might be even more viable in the case of, for example, motorcycle helmets, because the level of protection required is not as high," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2017, with the headline 'Safer, lighter, combat gear with new tech'. Print Edition | Subscribe