In mission and weapon-platform development, lighter is always better, with a fresh incentive by the growing need for increased sustainability and reduced ecological impact. With our clients, the national and international MoD’s and defence industries, typically trying to slash their carbon footprint by upwards of 25 per cent, limiting fuel consumption by reducing weight is a natural objective.
TNO has been working on the trade-off between weight and protection level for many years – and will continue to do so for many more to come. With composites, we have demonstrated that the same level of protection can be achieved on a military vehicle whilst yielding a weight reduction of 20 to 30 per cent. Already, TNO was able to demonstrate this with some impressive full-scale testing in 2019.
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TNO covers a broad area of research and testing, mostly related to materials and their applications in protective equipment. Traditionally, protective equipment has always been heavy because of its very nature, aiming to stop kinetic threats. In the past such protective equipment was mostly made of metals and ceramics, the latter of which remains an important focus material for TNO. However, in response to an increasing demand for lighter materials, our portfolio is now shifting perceptibly towards composites. These are typically carbon- and glass-fibre thermoset composites, but thermoplastic variations are likely to be considered in the near future.
Our activities can be clustered in four categories:
We offer a range of products and services within these categories, including material or concept development. For example, the composite material we developed in-house and patented in 2019. We also carry out product evaluations for national authorities and commercial clients. In the field of additive manufacturing, we provide support in the implementation of this novel production technology in the military maintenance infrastructure and supply chain.
Another key research area for TNO is terminal ballistics, the physics behind the interaction between a projectile and a protective material. Basically, we investigate how a bullet, for example, reacts on finding a piece of armour in its path. Another challenge is that relating to the availability of materials. The prices of some exotic material compounds can be very high because the base materials are in short supply.
TNO is a particularly strong player in the field of advanced materials and protection concepts. What makes us strong is our very extensive fundamental knowledge base, represented in a group of experts with combined knowledge and experience gained over some 200 years of collective research. Our comprehensive experimental facilities are unique in Europe. Not only can we conceive and build new concepts, we are also able to test and assess them extensively, indoors or in the field, yielding a higher level of understanding. This combination means that we can act very quickly, solving material-related problems on behalf of our clients in years instead of decades.
Our principal clients in this area range from Ministries of Defence (MoDs) to the defence industries that serve them. We are a trusted partner of the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, as well as the MoDs of many of our NATO partners. In the defence industry, our clients include the companies that design and build military vehicles and protective equipment, including ballistic vests and helmets. We also collaborate with material development companies, as well as knowledge and education institutes throughout Europe.