By Frank Esposito, Plastics News Staff
Centennial, Colorado - Technology firm Skydex Technologies Inc. has won a major military contract to provide protective plastic flooring for more than 4 000 all-terrain vehicles that will be used by US Armed Forces in Afghanistan.
Centennial, Colo.-based Skydex earlier this year designed a blast panel consisting of two layers of thermoplastic polyurethane covered with a layer of thermoset urethane. Through Skydex's patented "twin hemisphere" technology, these protective coatings can reduce floor-transmitted blast force from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by 71 percent, officials said.
A Skydex blast panel "looks like two halves of a tennis ball put together the wrong way," Chief Technology Officer Peter Foley said in an 15 Oct phone interview. "The geometry that we use disperses the overpressure from the IEDs. These [IEDs] are very unpredictable and unconventional, because it's basically guys in a garage saying 'What can we use to make a bomb today?'"
Since 2001, IEDs have killed 2 400 Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan and wounded 23 000 more. The percentage of casualties linked to IEDs has been increasing in Afghanistan, Skydex officials said.
TPU was chosen for the blast panels because of its resiliency, toughness and "ability to take millions of impacts," Foley said. The material also provides shock absorption and vibration dampening. Skydex's primary TPU supplier is Lubrizol Corp. of Wickliffe, Ohio, but the firm sources material from other TPU makers as well.
Skydex officials declined to identify the sheet makers it works with to make the blast panels. Military ATVs using the product are assembled by Oshkosh Corp. of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Force Protection Inc. of Ladson, South Carolina.
Orders for additional ATVs extend "well into next year," according to Foley. "'Protecting things that matter' is our motto, and that's really become our niche," he said. Government officials have said the overall ATV project eventually could be worth $3000 million and cover more than 5 000 vehicles.
Skydex delivered its first prototype blast panel to the US Department of Defense in March. The project was fast-tracked, allowing it to be approved in less than the typical 18-to-24-month review period.
"Approval times are shrinking rapidly because of the nature of these conflicts that we're in," Foley said. "The military is trying to take advantage of what industry can do."
Skydex employs 16 and operates a 4 000 square-foot (372-sq.m.) office, R&D lab and engineering facility in Centennial. The firm was founded in 2000 by entrepreneur Joe Skaja, and originally designed padding for running and athletic shoes made by Nike. The firm transitioned into military work in 2003 and now generates more than 90 percent of its sales from that market.
Officials declined to provide sales data. Privately held Skydex is owned by members of its management team, as well as by angel investors.
Other military products designed by Skydex include padding for helmets worn by pilots and additional padding for protective body armour. Skydex also is working on cushioning to reduce lower back pain caused by extended sitting in military vehicles. Some of these products already are in use, while others are in development.