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Award for device that detects damage to body armour

1 June 2018


A collaboration that developed a damage detection device for military body armour has won an accolade for innovation.

Cardiff University’s School of Engineering joined forces with California-headquartered Microsemi to develop A-Ultra – a lightweight hand-held system that uses ultrasound to spot damage to personal protective equipment.

The collaboration picked up the Business Innovation prize at this year’s Cardiff University Innovation and Impact Awards.

Around five million armour units used by the UK’s armed forces are shipped periodically around the globe for X-ray inspection, representing a significant cost.

The A-Ultra system allows the robustness of protective armour to be monitored locally, delivering both enhanced safety for the UK’s armed forces and savings for the Ministry of Defence.

The technology uses a transducer to send ultrasonic waves across the armour surface which are then received by another transducer. If the surface of the protective equipment is damaged, the system can give a ‘fail’ or ‘pass’ reading under military field conditions – producing results comparable to existing lab-based testing methods.

Dr Rhys Pullin, School of Engineering, said: “We are really delighted to receive the Business Innovation Award. The collaboration has brought wide-ranging benefits to both the School and the University. Applications for this technology go way beyond body armour, and will pave the way for further collaborations.

“The collaborations have allowed us to put together a £1m Innovate UK application with Microsemi, which has a base in Caldicot, Aston Martin Lagonda and Shape Machining. We have also developed a patent and recruited an outstanding researcher, Dr Ryan Marks, together with four members of staff...”

“A-Ultra began as an undergraduate project. Around 20 students have completed case studies, including some who went on to PhDs. Thanks to this input, the team’s extensive specialist knowledge of acoustic-ultrasonics in novel materials and geometrics continues to grow.”

Professor Rhys Pullin Professor

Martin McHugh, Head of Business and Technology Development at Microsemi, said: “It is both an honour and a pleasure to receive this award. The development of A-Ultra has brought substantial benefits. It has allowed Microsemi to build upon its embedded component technology, develop a new complementary product and bring with it potential job creation and opportunities for early career engineers.”

The benefits of A-Ultra are expected to be fully realised when the MoD delivers a report on the project to all companies bidding to develop the VIRTUS body armour system.

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The University’s Innovation and Impact Awards 2018 highlight the benefits of partnerships between academics and external organisations.