As commercials for trucks and heavy duty equipment flash across your television, saying they’re strong and equipped with “military grade” materials, have you ever taken a moment and thought: Huh, what does it take to make a material “military grade”?
Turns out, not too much.
This year, the Ford launched a commercial for their F-150, the most popular automobile bought by military members, saying it was made with “military grade aluminum.” Don’t misunderstand, they weren’t lying… but what exactly does it mean?
Continuing with the aluminum case, there’s a broad range of uses for aluminum in the military. From trucks and equipment to dinning trays, so “military grade aluminum” could potentially mean that a truck is made from the same aluminum as dining trays. Yes, it might make great dining room trays but that doesn’t necessarily scream bullet-proof truck.
What does military grade actually mean?
Everything in the military is designed to military specifications called ‘mil specs’ and they represent the standards and design of each piece of equipment used from beds to bags.
Mil specs exist to create interchangeability between manufacturers. So long as an item conforms to a mil spec, it should be exactly like every other item with that spec.
Whether Ford or Chevy makes a car, if they’re both built from the same mil spec, they’re technically interchangeable. Bullets, parts, straps: Everything has a mil spec.
The term “military grade” when not referring to a mil spec is 100 percent a marketing term used interchangeably with words like strong, tough, intense and high-quality. It links their product with some of the highest-rated products in the world.
What are you actually getting?
Even when something is made to a mil spec, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. It just means it’s interchangeable. Mil spec weapons, for instance, tend to be machined pretty loose in comparison to how tight they could be. A lot of times a mil spec just takes an existing industry standard and gives it a new code.
All common metals have existing common naming standards for alloys. Mil specs take those and give me new mil spec codes, which just encapsulates pre-existing standards. Taking it back to our earlier example, “6061 aluminum” surely has some kind of weird mil number too, but it’s still just 6061 aluminum. Therefore it could be called “military grade” but is about the cheapest billet material you could purchase.
Just about anybody can buy this material. If you go to a scrap yard, 99 percent of the aluminum there would be, to some degree, “aircraft grade” or “military grade” depending on its previous application.
In the case of the F-150, that aluminum is probably just some standardized aluminum just about any joe-shmo engineer can spec and purchase. The “military grade” builds intrinsic value into it, but actually says nothing about the material spec, its yield strength, tensile strength, or stiffness – the properties you actually should care about. But this is over most non-material science-inclined people’s heads, so they resort to a simple name that builds intrinsic value: Military Grade.
What it means to you
There are marketing tricks that everyone uses. It seems calling “tough” objects “military grade” is one of those simple tricks that adds value to a given good or product. Consumers should take the time, do the research and look into the actual specs of a product before purchasing it if that buy is based off of an illusion of strength based on the term Military Grade.
At Washington Military Resource Media, we want you to get the best products, values and understand what you’re buying. We only support the best companies and businesses by sending our valued military members to them. Our directory and resources are tough to get into, but very strong and actually used by the military every day… you might even call it Military Grade.
This post was inspired by a Reddit chain and following conversation between aerospace engineers, military personnel and civilian engineers about “Military Grade” Materials and their place in the common marketplace.