After the attack on Sept. 11, the United States said it would not allow any plane to its airspace without some type of protection against hijackers. And, with this statement, a Dutch industrial town saw its profits rise.
Dyneema Material More Powerful Than Commonly Used Kevlar
Airlines, looking for a way to bulletproof their cockpit doors, sought out Dyneema, which is a thermoplastic that can float on water despite being 15 times more powerful than steel. DSM, a Dutch chemical company, had nearly abandoned Dyneema. However, DSM has hopes that Dyneema can be just as successful as Kevlar, a fiber developed by DuPont Co.
Dyneema is used, not only in cockpit doors, but in many of the items Kevlar is used in – marine cables and bulletproof vests. DSM claims that Dyneema is stiffer, lighter and tougher than Kevlar.
One of the customers for the Dyneema material is the Chinese company that manufacturers armored helmets and vests that police used during the Beijing Olympics.
Engineers Keep Dyneema Material Alive
Dyneema has many unique properties and, when it was staggered upon in a lab, it was nearly forgotten. In 1963 though, two engineers, Ron Koningsveld and Albert Pennings, using a crystallization practice, reorganized the polyethylene molecules. What they found is that crystals developed on the stirring rods they used to manually stir the solution. This was a first for polyethylene.
The end result was uniformly aligned molecules that created a strong binding interaction between single molecules.
DSM Placed Attention On Bulk Chemicals
DSM, which was founded in 1902 as a state-owned mining company, focused its attention on petrochemicals and bulk chemicals. There were several instances where Dyneema was nearly sold; but, since DSM focused mainly on bulk chemicals, there wasn’t a place for the material in the company’s portfolio.
However, several dedicated engineers with a love for Dyneema kept the material in the public eye. In 1983, DSM management won an important patent that included Dyneema, making more money available to expand upon its use.
DSM Turns Attention Toward Barely Giving Fibers
In 1990, DSM made the choice to put attention on fibers for impact and bullet protection and on cables and ropes. The reason is that the material barely gives.
When steel breaks, it’s got a lot of energy behind it, going everywhere with the potential to become a lethal weapon. In Heerlen’s main test center for Dyneema, engineers showed how strong the ropes made of the material were. A machine pulled on the rope until it broke and came down without doing any harm.
It didn’t take companies long to realize that using ropes with the Dyneema material could give them an edge on their competitors.
DSM Receives Support After 9-11 Attacks
In 2001 and after the 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the U.S. government unexpectedly supported DSM. The government demanded new rules be put in place for airlines that flew in and to the U.S. The government had both the material and solution.
Today, DSM is looking for new markets – kite lines used to pull container ships as a way to save fuel or sheathing for heart pacemaker wires, eliminating the need for replacement every 10 years (on average).