Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Thursday, 30 July 2009 06:49 UK

Armour alloys strength under test

Armoured Land Rover with British troops
British forces serving in Afghanistan currently use Land Rovers which have titanium alloys.

A Belfast academic is working on research that could help protect soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Professor Wei Sha is testing how safe vehicles with titanium alloys are when hit by bullets or explosions.

Mr Sha, from Queen's University's School of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering, is examining the damage tolerance of titanium.

It is the first research to reveal the reasons behind the deformation of titanium alloys under strong impact.

British forces serving in Afghanistan currently use Land Rovers which have titanium alloys.

Professor Sha has discovered that, like virtually all metals, titanium is weakened under force and at an elevated temperature after a study visit by Professor Guoqing Wu, from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He is now aiming to go a step further with the research and predict what will happen if the alloys are compressed.

This compression process normally happens when manufacturers want to transform the material into a plate or short drum shape by using a compression machine. This form of titanium is often used in the aeronautic and astronautic industry.

But compression can also happen when faced with an unexpected situation such as when vehicles are hit in combat.

Heat

Although the process usually happens at room temperature, the temperature inside the alloy could heat up to several hundred degrees as heat is generated through deformation.

Professor Sha predicts this could weaken the alloys and endanger the lives of those travelling in the vehicle.

"Sometimes, deformation of a metal is a desirable property. It is essential for completing its forming and shaping process," he said.

"In other occasions, deformation is unwanted, especially in a finished product, which people want to maintain its shape during service. Either way, it is important to understand the deformation behaviour, so as to be able to devise methods to control the deformation."

He set out to make sense of the complicated phenomenon so that if an explosion or military attack occurs those involved will know what to expect.

The end research could be used by manufacturers for advice on safety, material selection, optimisation and component design.

Professor Sha hopes that this new model will cut back on the number of costly experiments which are needed to test the safety of titanium.



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