Company working on tent armor
MONTROSE — Ed Pilpel, president of Polystrand Inc., is ready to start full production of a special “armor” that can keep soldiers safe inside their tents if a bomb explodes outside.
Polystrand has been working with the University of Maine for 10 years to develop a product that can be used to shield “forward-fighting tents” from blasts and shrapnel caused by explosive devices, he said.
Pilpel said the tent panels are “beyond prototype,” and he’s ready to start a pilot run with the University of Maine, which just received $1.6 million for producing the panels through a recently passed defense spending bill.
“Our part is supplying the material, but I don’t know how many, and I am not sure how much we’ll get,” he said.
Traditionally, sandbags are placed outside of tents for protection, he said, but they are heavy and time-consuming to install. The U.S. Army has been trying to come up with an effective way to protect tents in war zones since World War I, he said, and Polystrand has the answer.
“It just so happens we came up with the right combination that makes a very good and economical ballistic panel,” he said.
Made of the Polystrand product ThermoBallistic, the shrapnel-proof panels go inside the tent, making them harder to detect, and they can be put up in an hour or less, Pilpel said.
When an explosive device goes off near a tent, a very high blast — a shock wave — hits first, he said, and a normal tent and its aluminum poles are blown flat.
“We found a way to keep that same tent standing, with the same aluminum poles and the same fabric,” Pilpel said.
The panels deflect and absorb the blast energy “in a millisecond,” he said, and can withstand a blast at least 20 times that of the strongest hurricane.
As he stood looking across the cavernous Polystrand plant on Air Park Way last week, Pilpel said his company is ready to go to full production.
“We built a pretty big plant that we need to fill in and see what we can actually come through with,” he said. “We’ve made hundreds of thousands of pounds as prototype, and we’ll have to see how it all works out to get a bigger volume.”
After that volume gets rolling, Pilpel can see an even bigger market for his business.
“The Army and Air Force have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of tents,” he said.
The key to the process for making the ballistic composite, as with all Polystrand products, is the way little plastic pellets are fused with glass — but it’s a company secret, hidden behind a 30-foot-long blue plastic curtain that encircles an area of several hundred square feet in the middle of the plant.
“The secret is the way we make the tape, and we’re the only ones in the world,” he said. “Others have different ways of doing it, but it’s a method of impregnating the glass, the process that drives them together.”
No glue is involved in the process, which is very clean, he said, and the end product can be reconfigured several times and is 100 percent recyclable.
The company, which employs about 30 people, also produces linings for refrigerated trucks, material for aircraft cargo containers, parts for the auto industry and the ingredient in your tinted sunroof that makes it strong.
“Polystrand gives it some stiffness,” he said.
Polystrand was started in 2004 as a division of Gordon Composites, which was founded in 1953 and moved to Montrose in 1995, Pilpel said. That company is in the building next door.