26 July 2023

XTEK’s specialised technology transforms armed forces’ personal protection

XTEK’s lightweight armour plates and helmets are providing high-ballistic protection for combat personnel around the world. The Adelaide manufacturer’s innovative products are winning the company multimillion-dollar contracts worldwide.

XTEK Group CEO Scott Basham says the company needs an export focus because the Australian market for its products is very small. To support its growing global business, XTEK acquired US-based HighCom Armor Solutions in 2019.

In 2022, XTEK set up an office and warehousing facility in Bydgoszcz, Poland, to access an important defence market. The Polish defence budget jumped by 47.1% to A$31.6 billion in 2023, with a focus on building capability in the Army and land forces. Total spending on defence, including a newly created Armed Forces Support Fund, will reach 4% of Poland’s GDP in 2023.

‘Austrade has given us the playing-away-from-home knowledge that’s essential to being successful,’ says Basham. ‘They’ve helped us connect with the right people: decision-makers and potential partners who can open doors to other markets.

‘Leveraging Austrade’s expertise and local knowledge and connections has changed the way we go to market,’ adds Basham. ‘It has allowed us to pursue $20 million, $50 million deals. I can’t speak highly enough about the value that we get, the support and the access we’ve received.’

‘While other European nations are also increasing their defence spending, Poland needs to source the majority of new equipment and technology externally,’ says Bozena Swierbutowicz, Austrade Senior Business Development Manager. ‘This creates a sizable opportunity for Australian companies to develop and manufacture in collaboration with local partners.’

Strong relationships key to meeting procurement challenges

Defence procurement can be very slow and it does not favour innovation. Supply contracts may only let every 5 years or so. This can mean a long wait for the next opportunity to get product in front of people.

‘Militaries absolutely hate having only one source of supply for a product in case something happens to one of them,’ says Basham. ‘A tender will be written for the minimum specifications. Despite your innovation you can get stuck in a commoditised product, and it can be really hard to differentiate yourself.’

That’s where trusted relationships are key. ‘People need to know you before they even think about buying products,’ says Justin Suwart, XTEK’s Head of Business Development. ‘Then of course you need to deliver a product that can do what you say it can do. But the good relationship is what gets you in the door.’

XTEK is also leveraging its strong brand. ‘Around 70-80% of what we made used to go out the door of our factories with somebody else’s sticker on it. Now that we’ve changed our approach, we’re really leveraging our own brand and we’ve had great success.’

Innovative technology offers increased ballistic protection

Basham describes XTEK’s patented XTClave as ‘like an enormous pressure cooker’. The hydroclave operates at up to 200 degrees Celsius, applying isostatic pressure at 300 bar to process the constituent materials. These materials include technical ceramics, different grades of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), aramid and carbon fibres, and adhesives.

The intense compression, at ‘submarine hull-crushing depths’, allows for less material than production using mechanical presses. Armour and helmets can be lighter and provide better ballistic protection.

‘A helmet is now a platform for technology: lights, sensors, night vision goggles, earmuffs, microphones and so on,’ says Basham. Weight may be an issue if personnel expect to travel long distances carrying lots of equipment. XTEK’s rifle-rated helmets mean combat personnel do not have to sacrifice protection to get a helmet light enough to wear.

XTEK can adjust the composition to suit different operating environments. For instance, not all forces need rifle-grade protection. Some are more likely to face bricks and broken bottles. For marine forces such as navies, coast guard and water police, XTEK can produce neutrally or positively buoyant solutions.

Innovating to suit changing demographics

XTEK’s technology also allows it to produce uniquely complex curvatures and geometries. That allows a better fit for different body types.

The physical profile of XTEK’s customers is changing, notes Basham. ‘Defence forces are not all 6 foot 4 males anymore. We have such a diverse and multicultural mix these days, and that’s really an audience we want to reach.’

XTEK is keen to explore further opportunities to innovate. These include using 3D body scanning of shapes and modelling of different demographics.

‘Sovereign forces will come to us with an idea and ask if we can make it for them,’ says Basham. ‘That’s part of our speciality in our Adelaide facility. We take those concepts and develop them into a physical product.’

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