Textile durability and the application of high strength textiles is a topic covered regularly on our blog, including anything from tarp to Cordura. These high-resilience textiles are ideal for First Responder, military, and personal protection applications, as well as any custom sewn product that will involve heightened exposure to degrading elements, especially those of extreme heat or freezing temperatures. Kevlar, the accidental discovery of chemist Stephanie Kwolek, is one of the strongest and most versatile textiles, boasting a tensile strength-to-weight ratio so high it is actually five times stronger than steel.
Kevlar is a synthetic material that is, to put it simply, a very strong woven plastic.
Unintentionally created in 1964, this textile was originally being developed as a solution to develop lighter-weight but stronger tires due to a gasoline shortage. Upon the discovery of its tenacity and ability to hold up under testing that other nylon solutions could not, further testing and development was done. The field of polymer chemistry emerged from this, which deals with the molecular make up and chemistry of synthetic polymers.
The strength from Kevlar comes from not only the way to fibers are spun and woven together, but from the molecular structure; the synthetic aromatic polyamide (the type of molecule used to create Kevlar) has long and parallel chains of molecules that are made stronger by the method of fabric construction. The chemical construction of Kevlar must be established prior to the spinning of the fiber by connecting long chains of the same molecule repeated over and over and bound tightly together with hydrogen molecules. The fiber is then created through a process of “wet spinning”, which aligns all of the molecules into the same direction by heating the viscous molecular material and putting the material through a spinneret. When cut and tightly woven into a fabric sheet, the Kevlar is ready for field application.
The most common wearable kevlar application is a ballistic vest. The tight molecular composition combined with the tight textile weave is very difficult to penetrate with a bullet or a knife. While it is not impenetrable, it does absorb much of the blow and will do far less damage to the wearer. With this knowledge, many ballistic vests are designed with multiple layers of Kevlar, which means more protection and attack absorption. Other common uses involve carrying cases designed for maximum protection, car parts (such as brake and internal strap components), tires, archery components (such as bowstrings), and even external bodies of aircrafts, boats, and cars.
Using this ballistic material, possibly combined with body armor integration capabilities, could redefine personal protection for anyone from First Responders to the military.