40 Years of DuPont Kevlar

DuPont Kevlar, the high-performance material that has helped save thousands of lives around the world, marks its 40th anniversary this fall with a host of new and emerging innovations – ranging from an in-home storm shelter made with Kevlar that helps provide families protection from the dangers of hurricanes and tornadoes, to emerging ultra-strong protective applications in supporting the "soldier of the future."

DuPont Kevlar, an organic fiber in the aramid family, uniquely combines high strength with light weight, and comfort with protection. Kevlar is five times stronger than steel on an equal weight basis, providing reliable performance and solid strength. The rigid molecular structure of Kevlar also provides additional properties such as thermal stability and high resistance to many threats and dangers, including protecting against thermal hazards up to 800°F.

Groundbreaking research by DuPont scientist Stephanie Kwolek in the field of liquid crystalline polymer solutions in the fall of 1965 formed the basis for the commercial preparation of the Kevlar aramid fiber. Kwolek has earned broad global accolades for her work – including receiving the 1996 National Medal of Technology from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Kevlar is perhaps best known for its use in bullet- and stab-resistant body armor. In law enforcement applications alone, nearly 3,000 officers have survived potentially fatal or disabling injuries because they were wearing personal body armor. In addition, helmets of DuPont Kevlar have been standard issue for the U.S. Army since the Gulf War in 1991. The balance of unusual properties enables the broad range of Kevlar applications today from ballistic vests to cut-resistant gloves to blast and flame barriers.

"DuPont Kevlar helps protect the everyday heroes around the world who put their lives on the line each day – military and law enforcement professionals, firefighters and other first responders," said William J. Harvey, vice president and general manager – DuPont Advanced Fiber Systems. "Because threats are dynamic and ever-changing, we are continuing to put our science to work – developing innovations to help protect people, properties and operations every day."

While Kevlar was initially developed 40 years ago in Wilmington, new and emerging technologies under development today by both DuPont and its partners are relying on the unique attributes of Kevlar in diversifying applications.

DuPont recently introduced its StormRoom with Kevlar - a residential storm shelter made with Kevlar that is engineered to help provide residents protection from the dangers of hurricanes and tornadoes. According to weather experts, when a hurricane hits land, its winds can top more than 150 miles per hour, toppling trees and power lines, and sending debris flying through the air – making many common items and building materials dangerous weapons. The DuPont StormRoom with Kevlar is available in rectangular configurations and features DuPont Kevlar sheathing built inside reinforced wall panels. When properly installed, the shelter literally acts as a safety net, helping to stop and deflect wind-borne debris.

The new Airbus A380 – the world's largest-ever commercial jetliner which seats nearly 800 passengers – relies on the unique lightweight and high-performance attributes of DuPont Kevlar to reduce weight versus traditional materials in its 308-ton frame. Kevlar is an enabling technology in Airbus A380, including a new honeycomb composite made from Kevlar which is found from its flooring to interior walls to wing flaps. By replacing traditional heavier materials, Kevlar can help dramatically increase the structural integrity of the aircraft, while enabling a substantial weight savings for improved functionality and performance. The Airbus A380, which made its successful maiden voyage with much fanfare earlier this year in France, is scheduled to begin commercial airline service after Singapore Airlines takes delivery in 2006.

Current DuPont research and development initiatives with Kevlar include working as a founding partner with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Department of Defense in developing new protective materials for the "soldier of the future" as part of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN). The ISN's goal is to increase the "protection and survivability" of U.S. soldiers with new technologies. Reducing logistical footprints are especially important to an in-field soldier whose standard-issue gear now weighs upwards of 100 pounds. The goal is reducing the load to about 45 pounds.

"Threats are never static and always evolving," said retired U.S. Major General D. Allen Youngman. "Lightweight, breathable body armor on a soldier is the key need for tomorrow's military."

Additional new innovations relying on the unique attributes of Kevlar include:

  • Goodyear launched in January its latest tire innovation "Silent Armor Technology," relying on the strength and durability of Kevlar in its new line of tires.
  • The United States Custom and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol recently agreed to outfit its agents with protective vests containing new DuPont Kevlar Comfort XLT technology – allowing vests to weigh at least 25 percent less than current all-aramid fabric designs while maintaining the same high levels of ballistic performance.

For the future, DuPont is currently developing a range of next-generation materials to complement the unique attributes of Kevlar. DuPont is working with Magellan Systems International in developing M5, an ultra high-strength performance fiber. As a next generation material in protective applications, M5 contains unique attributes of strength, stiffness, and resistance to high temperatures. While still under development, the M5 material has a range of potential uses to enhance protection of military and law enforcement personnel, fire fighters and industrial workers, and also to address needs in high-performance industrial and commercial applications.

"With our established DuPont Kevlar and Nomex advanced fibers widely recognized for their unique properties, the addition of M5 will complement and extend DuPont's current portfolio of safety and protection innovations and capabilities," said Harvey.

DuPont is a science company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture, nutrition, electronics, communications, safety and protection, home and construction, transportation and apparel.


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