Handgun holsters: Thermoplastic composites target extreme performance

Safariland LLC (Ontario, Calif.), produces gun holsters, previously made of leather, from a proprietary composite that relies on a custom-formulated thermoplastic sheet product from Boltaron Performance Products LLC (Newcomerstown, Ohio)
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Safariland LLC (Ontario, Calif.), a business unit of BAE Systems (London, U.K.), produces gun holsters for law enforcement and military personnel, as well as competitive shooters and firearm enthusiasts. Previously made of leather, the holsters are now fabricated from a proprietary composite that relies on a custom-formulated thermoplastic sheet product from Boltaron Performance Products LLC (Newcomerstown, Ohio) to impart strength and impact resistance.

Millions of holsters used by the military must withstand “normal” use temperatures in the Middle East of 125°F/52°C. But the greater challenge, says Scott Carnahan, a 30-year company veteran and current VP of category marketing in the equipment division, was to produce a holster that could resist deformation when left on a car dashboard at a temperature of 220°F/104°C on a hot sunny day.

Improved heat resistance was an important objective for Boltaron engineers when they custom-formulated the proprietary sheet. Originally developed by Rogers Holster Co. (a company acquired by BAE in 1984), the composite material is produced in a patented hot-laminating and adhesion process that combines nylon or urethane fabric with Boltaron’s custom-extruded acrylic/polyvinyl chloride (PVC) alloy sheet. The thermoplastic is fire-resistant and exhibits better resistance to cold-cracking and impact damage than the competitive thermoplastic sheet that it replaced. The resulting composite better resists delamination.

The aluminum tools for the holsters are CAD-designed and then CNC-machined to the tight tolerances required for proper fit. Because most of the holster designs are gun-specific, Safariland works closely with firearm manufacturers to ensure that changes in gun designs don’t dramatically affect holster fit and function.
Safariland buys sheets in thicknesses from 0.028 and 0.125 inch (0.71 to 3.18 mm) and reports that during processing they exhibit extreme formability, with reduced shrinkage and minimal thinning in deep recesses and on outside corners. When lamination and molding are complete, secondary operations include burnishing and smoothing part edges. Exterior color and texture, including Safariland’s trademarked STX Basket Weave and Carbon Fiber looks and a plain leather appearance, are achieved by varying the thermoplastic sheet or the urethane or nylon cloth laminated to it.

“Safariland composites formed using Boltaron sheet deliver the performance expected by users of Safariland holsters in Alaska and Afghanistan alike,” adds Carnahan.