NEW IPSWICH — A local manufacturer of specialty textiles for protective gear has won a $94.3 million contract from the U.S. Army for concealable body armor and vests.
The contract is the largest in the recent history of Warwick Mills, according to president and chief engineer Charlie Howland, who joined the company in 1991.
Howland led the company's shift from textile production to high-performance flexible composites for a range of industries, including military, public safety, industrial, aerospace and marine.
He predicted that Warwick, with 130 employees, would hire additional workers to meet the production demands, but he could not say how many or when.
"It will be uneven," he said. "It's an open-ended term and an open-ended quantity. So although it's a fantastic top number, it would take the Army many years to procure that much material."
The company is also building a biomass energy plant to increase its production capacity.
Warwick was among five companies bidding for the work in a process that took more than two years, with two rounds of testing by the military before the final award, Howland said.
The multi-thread products are designed to protect against bullets or shrapnel, as well as spike or knife attacks.
"That's something we've been working on for 20 years," Howland said. "Warwick has been investing in technology and products for doing this for a very long time and has been selling this technology internationally for years."
The new contract is a big breakthrough in the domestic market for the company, which has sold primarily in the European market for years.
Holland described the bidding process as fully competitive, but the ability of the Warwick material to protect against multiple threats made the difference. "Many of the competitors tried to do it, but they didn't have 20 years of experience," he said.
The company is working with the military on designs for female personnel, which should be completed in about nine months.
According to the company website, Warwick Mills, incorporated in 1888, is now the oldest operating textile mill in New Hampshire.