Protective systems that are simultaneously hard to puncture and compliant in flexion are desirable, but difficult to achieve because hard materials are usually stiff. However, we can overcome this conflicting design requirement by combining plates of a hard material with a softer substrate, and a strategy which is widely found in natural armors such as fish scales or osteoderms. Man-made segmented armors have a long history, but their systematic implementation in a modern and a protective system is still hampered by a limited understanding of the mechanics and the design of optimization guidelines, and by challenges in cost-efficient manufacturing. This study addresses these limitations with a flexible bioinspired armor based on overlapping ceramic scales. The fabrication combines laser engraving and a stretch-and-release method which allows for fine tuning of the size and overlap of the scales, and which is suitable for large scale fabrication. Compared to a continuous layer of uniform ceramic, our fish-scale like armor is not only more flexible, but it is also more resistant to puncture and more damage tolerant. The proposed armor is also about ten times more puncture resistant than soft elastomers, making it a very attractive alternative to traditional protective equipment.
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