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BULLET RESISTANT PANELS

Bullet resistant panels are the unsung heroes of any bullet proof system.  To most people “bullet proof” means gleaming, inch-thick acrylic windows with steel frames, stainless-steel cash trays, and steel-faced intercoms.  But none of that does much good if it’s mounted on a very bullet-susceptible plywood counter top or thin sheet-rock wall.  By backing garden-variety building materials with bullet resistant fiberglass panels, seemingly unremarkable doors, walls, and counters become bullet resistant barriers.

A bullet resistant panel just 1/4-inch thick can stop at least three 9mm bullets fired dead on from just a few feet away.  Such ballistically rated fiberglass bullet resistant panels are also called opaque armor or “Kevlar panels” (although “Kevlar” is technically the brand name for DuPont’s version of the woven fiberglass mesh used in some such panels).

MAKING BULLET RESISTANT PANELS

Bullet resistant fiberglass is a two-part laminated material.  Start with a mesh of synthetic para-aramid fibers, which are noted for their abrasion resistance, low flammability, and incredibly high tensile strength.  This coarse, virtually unbreakable off-white mesh is similar to the nylon belts used in tires, and is basically the same as the woven Kevlar cloth made famous by bullet-proof vests.  To make a fiberglass bullet resistant panel, lay down layers of this woven fiberglass mesh, forming a thick mat, and then saturate it with synthetic resin.  This gooey mat is then squeezed and heated in an industrial press until it dries.  The result is a hard, dense, rigid panel.  A bullet striking such a panel deforms against the hard surface, loosing much of its forward moment as it mushrooms, veers, and tumbles. The fiberglass panel’s layers delaminate, expanding like an opening accordion.  The brittle resin cracks and shatters–thus eating up more of the bullet’s deadly energy–but the tough flexible fiberglass cloth embedded in the panel won’t tear.  This bullet resistant net catches and deflects the bullet, the same way that the walls of a batting cage shrugs off a hard line drive.

Bullet resistant panels are made in standard sizes–including 4-foot by 8-foot sheets, which are also the most common dimensions for plywood and drywall–and can be drilled and cut with conventional tools.  Since the panels are made in a laminating process, it’s a simple matter to manufacture thicker panels with more bullet-stopping power: Need to stop a .44 Mag?  Then build up a 1/2-inch piece of fiberglass.  Wanna stop an AK-47?  Start layering up the panels themselves.