Does the civilian armoured vehicle industry in South Africa have any regulation?

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Michael Broom, Sales and Marketing Manager at Armormax, and Nicol Louw, Business Development Director at SVI Engineering spoke to ProtectionWeb on regulations in the fast-growing industry.

Please introduce your company and yourself.

Broom: Armormax has been around now for 19 years. We started as a partnership with International Armoring Corporation from Utah, USA and are now wholly South African owned. We specialise in the up-armouring of civilian vehicles focussed primarily on the premium sector. My background is in several sales and marketing management roles in the motor industry for more than two decades, specialising in the premium and luxury sector.

Louw: SVI is an original equipment manufacturer that has specialised in armoured vehicles since 2004. The company is a market leader in Africa, serving the private, corporate, security, mining and governmental segments. SVI holds a Level 2 B-BBEE certification and its quality management system is certified to ISO 9001:2015 by TÜV Rheinland. I am an engineer (M.Sc) and worked on major OEM vehicle programmes both locally and in Europe over a 10-year period. I then entered the media world with a 10-year stint as technical editor at CAR magazine.

Is there currently any South African standards organisation that regulates the armouring of civilian/passenger vehicles?

Broom: Sadly not.

Louw: On the civilian side (armouring levels including B6 and below) unfortunately not.

Why is this the case?

Broom: Considering the low volume of these vehicles produced, primarily by a small number of specialists in the past it possibly was not necessary. The principles applied by those few were based on international practice, sound engineering and a thorough understanding of ballistics. With the massive growth the market has experienced in the last 6 years, our focus has needed to shift from educating the public on the need for an armoured vehicle to educating potential customers on armouring standards and quality.

Louw: Local civilian armouring volumes, as recent as five years ago, were minimal compared to what it is now. Therefore there was less of a need to educate the public on armouring quality. Today the volumes are considerable (and rising) with more companies competing for a slice of the growing pie. The international full vehicle certification standards are too expensive for most local armouring companies to adhere to. A South African armouring standard will go a long way to ensure the public can make an educated discussion before choosing an armouring company or product.

A BMW shot up during armour testing.

Is there a global standards organisation that regulates the armouring of civilian/passenger vehicles?

Broom: Not specifically for the way a vehicle is armoured, but more so on the grades of materials used. These materials are then tested in a laboratory or in field tests and need to conform to a standard. We work according to the EN1063 and EN1522 standard, which measures the ability of the material to withstand ballistic impacts in a pre-determined set of parameters. This in no way guarantees that despite certified materials being used, that they are applied in a manner that provides 100% ballistic integrity, or applied suitably to defeat a certain threat.

Louw: Many international standards only focus on the ballistic properties of the armouring materials. This includes the BR levels commonly used in South Africa as per EN1063 for ballistic glass. This unfortunately does not confirm how well the vehicle is armoured and there may be bad workmanship or even worse, ballistic gaps. There are some standards that involves full vehicle certification like VPAM and NIJ. SVI has recently certified a BMW X3 to level NIJ IIIa at a cost of R2m.

What about the ballistic grading standards, does that not get controlled locally in any way?

Broom: Not currently. Previously South Africa had ballistic testing capability through the SABS. It is however not currently required in our case as we do not source any materials locally, and would be massively expensive to undertake for each and every type of vehicle we build.

Louw: The capability exists to confirm both material and vehicle ballistic standards (Armscor/CSIR) but it is rarely called upon as is not legally needed and very costly. Unfortunately, it allows some armouring companies to get away with sub-standard solutions.

How much of the ballistic grading standards is open to interpretation or what tolerances are acceptable?

Broom: By definition a standard should not be open to interpretation. It either meets the grade or it doesn’t. There simply is no grey area and considering the nature of what we do, there shouldn’t be. However, if the correctly graded materials are not applied correctly ensuring no ballistic gaps and in a manner that will defeat real-world threats locally, a consumer would not know the difference and has to blindly accept the certificate they are issued to certify it as a B4 or B6 vehicle.

Louw: Ballistic material and vehicle standards are fixed. The problem lies with applying a material standard on a vehicle application as is happening locally. Therefore a vehicle with massive ballistic gaps may still be classed as a B4 or B6 vehicle and the customer would be none the wiser

There are a number of new players in the market that have entered in the last 5 years, is this a threat to your businesses?

Broom: It’s not a threat to our business. We have been thriving long before the market expanded the way it has because we have a zero-compromise approach which will resonate with a consumer that feels the same way about their safety.

It is a threat to the industry however if they produce sub-standard products. Should the unfortunate happen where a consumer loses their life in an armoured car due to sub-standard practices, built in South Africa, it shines a bad light on the entire industry and not just the company involved.

Louw: Yes and No. Yes, if they produce sub-par products as it would give the whole industry a bad name. No, as we welcome new players in the field if they can help lift the industry to a next level from a quality and protection point of view.

What assurance is there to the consumer, that all armoured vehicles in South Africa are being built to the correct standard?

Broom: There isn’t so unfortunately this would require some research from the consumer. The obvious things to ascertain right up front are the amount of experience the armourer has; are they internationally certified to ISO9001 quality management standards; do they have any OEM recognition and certifications and most importantly, are they completely transparent with you about what they do and how they do it?

Louw: Currently none and therefore we urge potential buyers to first vet the company they plan on using. Are they ISO 9001 certified from a quality management point of view? Do they have Armscor clearance? How many fully approved OEM products do they offer as the OEM approval and certification processes do a good job in sifting potential armouring companies.

Do your businesses comply with any other global standard?

Broom: Yes, we are certified with TUV for the ISO9001 Quality Management Standard as well as the National Conventional Arms Control Committee.

Louw: Yes, ISO9001 quality management system and SVI is registered with the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) which is part of the international Wassenaar arrangement overseeing the sale and export of dual use goods.

What is required to be recognised by an OEM as an armourer of choice?

Broom: The term approved can be a misleading one, and often used incorrectly. An OEM is not a ballistic grading or certification entity and so ‘approved’ may imply that the OEM is the authority on whether you armour vehicles correctly. They can however inspect your management systems, quality control, certifications, build quality, aftersales support, customer experience and real-world results. This would then allow them to recognise, validate or approve you as an armourer of choice. We are recognised and approved by several manufacturers.

Louw: The process varies between manufacturers as SVI has experience in passing the criteria for certain models from:

Ford
Toyota
Mercedes-Benz
BMW
UD trucks

It mostly involves a full company audit including a build inspection. It may also include durability testing and a ballistic certification test.

What control or standard is there in terms of technical training or qualifications required for armouring a vehicle?

Broom: Only the basic NQF standards for various functions within the armouring process.

Louw: Most important is a police clearance for all employees as armouring is part of the security sector. Other qualifications is as per job description in terms of welders, fitters, engineers etc.

What transparency is available to a consumer to be assured of the ballistic quality of their vehicle once armoured?

Broom: This is entirely the responsibility of the armourer. From our perspective, we encourage every potential customer to visit our factory where we demonstrate in depth our materials, our processes, our results and what to expect from an aftersales perspective. Additionally, we encourage them to visit our competitors and ask the same of them so they can make an informed decision.

Louw: SVI invites all its potential clients to visit our facility for a factory tour to see the manner in which the vehicles are armoured. All the related certificates are available for the material used in armouring a specific vehicle. If the vehicle is part of our OEM approved products, then further certification is available.

To form a regulatory body, what would be required?

Broom: It has to be formed independently of the role players to ensure objectivity and credibility. It would be suggested that role players provide input on what the standards should be and how they are measured, and implemented in a way that is achievable and realistic financially and in practice.

Louw: It would require bodies like Armscor and the CSIR that are experts in the field of ballistic protection to join hands with the leading armouring companies to form a standard that is relatively simple cost effective and possible to assess in a short timeframe to start. The level of the standard can be increased with time as lessons learned gets implemented.