(WBEN) A startup specialty steel company in Tonawanda is putting the military in Military Road, employing 18 people and using a patented process to create body armor that its inventors say is lighter, and resistant to both shrapnel and bullets.
Inside a former Gibraltar Steel warehouse, Buffalo Armory churns out armor plating to line humvees or become the main ingredient in body armor. On July 17, the company received a patent on its method of heat treating steel, using induction coils and super-fast heating in ways that are often employed on smaller parts, rather than large slabs of iron.
"We wrap copper coils around the steel, 23,000 volts of electricity creates an electric field and that creates heat," says company president John Batiste, a retired Army Maj.General.
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The end result is a very different bullet-proof product that prevents fragging from both shrapnel and IED's. "No other product does that," Batiste says.
At right, a conference room table covered with bullet ridden samples of their steel, none with holes all the way through
Started as a "What If?" project at Rochester-based Klein Steel, the process grew to create a high strength steel that can also be used in agriculture, mining, earth moving, and even tougher blades for snow plows, Batiste says.
The streamlined production line fits in a relatively small space inside Klein's Buffalo facility.
The company currently operates one shift but expects to expand to three within six months.
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If it does, it would turn the traditional pattern upside down, at a time when diversification is the watchword at most of the region's old line defense companies. For example, at Moog Inc. in East Aurora control systems that once helped steer rockets are now part of theme-park rides and factory robots.
For at least a decade, most of Buffalo's -- and the nation's -- larger defense contractor companies have achieved greater growth in civilian markets. Dun & Bradstreet says in the year 2000, Buffalo had $207 million in defense contracts; by 2013 that had dropped to $115 million.
But Batiste says the climate of cuts means the military is looking for lighter, faster and cheaper solutions that have his company and a trim production process poised for growth.
"Our entire production line is about 150 feet long. Most of that's conveyers and stackers etc. The actual sweet spot where we do all the magic is 20 feet long. Compare that to the a large integrated (steel) mill: Less energy. Quicker. It's the future. "
He envisions the process and the product at the heart next generation military hardware.
"For the future family of armored vehicles that our country is now designing, the designers are looking for something that weighs less. They want something more affordable, lighter.
"It's a perfect storm right now , it's exactly what the defense department needs in regards to a shrunken budget. " Batiste says.