SHERIDAN — The Wyoming Business Council has awarded $5,000 to a limited liability company that might set up in Sheridan to develop lightweight armor materials.
While Lightstrength Engineering Services is registered with the Wyoming Secretary of State to Ron Kensey of Kennon Products, the main operator is a professor of engineering at Auburn University in Alabama.
Doctor of Engineering Gwynedd Thomas is Lightstrength’s president and chief scientist, and said she’s wrapping up her teaching career and starting to establish a foothold in Sheridan, where she plans to begin her next career designing protective equipment.
The Phase 0 Wyoming Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer Program is designed to give small companies a chance to compete for additional funding from other federal agencies by providing funds that tie over a business while it prepares successive grant applications. Other Sheridan-based companies that were recently awarded the stipend include the Sheridan Programmers Guild and Kennon Products.
Thomas said she sees Sheridan as an ideal location for her next endeavor because of its natural advantages in landscape that would allow for safe ballistics testing of her newly developed materials. She said she was surprised with the ease of the Phase 0 grant process.
“Mainly, what we’re doing in this particular proposal is entirely theoretical studies,” she said. “For some reason, and this seems odd to me, they wanted just pure theories and not samples of the armor before they went ahead with it.”
Thomas said the goal of Lightstrength, incorporated in 2010, will be to develop new materials and construction that can be used for protection of people and property. Lightstrength has partnered with Kennon Products in the past, as Kennon has licensed several of Lightstrength’s patents in the last few years.
Thomas said that while the theories of how conventional armor works include using blunt force and superior resistance to deflect a bullet or shrapnel, her ideas center around the concept of using the threat’s trajectory and momentum to divert or deflect its impact.
Thomas said she has been working with Forward Sheridan to set up a more permanent presence for her company in Sheridan. Right now, Lightstrength uses Kennon’s physical address as a base of operations and thus, is considered a Wyoming business. Thomas conducted some armor testing using explosives at Decker Mine in 2010.
While the Phase 0 grant is specifically designated to allow further grant facilitation from the Department of Defense, Thomas said Lightstrength’s focus will not be limited to wartime armor.
“We’re in the business of protection, and that can include other things,” Thomas said, offering vehicle covers, sports equipment and protective coats for service dogs as examples of the diversification of Lightstrength’s potential market.
“The big thing we have planned for Sheridan is to install a state of the art testing lab,” she said. “Sheridan has tremendous physical advantages as far as physical location.”
Thomas said Sheridan’s unique location, in the near middle of the U.S., complements existing large ballistics testing sites on the coasts.
“You can build a facility into the land itself,” Thomas said, adding her envisioned testing lab would be equipped to evaluate various level of threats.
“You’re not as restricted about what can be done with testing because the landscape itself provides safety,” she said.
WSSI Director Gene Watson said the goal of the program entails encouraging new companies to come to Wyoming, and though Lightstrength does not have a physical presence in Sheridan now, the funds were awarded because of the potential for economic stimulus in Wyoming if further projects are adopted for federal grants.
Watson said the award is a contract between the company and the WSSI program that the company will submit a Phase I grant proposal to the designated grantor, in this case, the Department of Defense, within a specified time frame.