AFRL Maker Hub comes to the aid of flexible body armor effort

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --  The AFRL Maker Hub, still in its infancy, is already proving to be a valuable asset for Materials and Manufacturing Directorate scientists and engineers looking to push the bounds of conventional research.

Researchers from the AFRL Junior Force Warfighters Operations program, or JFWORX, recently used the Maker Hub computerized sewing station to work on initial experimental designs for advanced flexible body armor.  The objective of this project is to develop lightweight, flexible body armor to more effectively protect military troops in the field.

According to 2nd Lt. Mathew Couch, one of the project researchers, the decision to use the Maker Hub for this project was motivated by convenience and practicality.

“It’s the low-cost approach to performing product design. We can come to the Maker Hub and experiment with designs to get an idea of what works. It also gets us away from the typical office interruptions so that we can be free to focus on our task,” said Couch.

The team used the Maker Hub collaborative space to discuss and draw out designs, and then moved to the sewing station to add a body armor “pocket” to an ordinary athletic shirt.  They then performed a fitting of this pocketed prototype to test wearability and to evaluate design options for flexibility, conformity, and overall functionality.  The prototyping was all done with common materials that could be purchased at any hobby store, but it will help the researchers better understand what they will need as they take the next design steps and incorporate more functional materials.

“The timing was great for this project.  With the Maker Hub now in place, we are able to use their rapid prototyping tools and have all the basic tools we need—like glue guns, scissors, sewing equipment, and other materials—in reach so that we can put together our ideas quickly,” said 1st Lt. Jason Goins, project lead.

Goins said the team will now use what they learned in the Maker Hub to continue to refine initial designs, focusing on materials that will provide maximum protection, while remaining conformal, flexible, and affordable.

The AFRL Maker Hub is a one-year pilot project in partnership with the Wright Brothers Institute. This makerspace gives AFRL personnel of all technical skill levels the opportunity to conceive and develop their own ideas, as well as collaborate with fellow AFRL builders in a relaxed environment.