Kevlar® Shows the Value of Constant Innovation
If you’ve watched any television police drama, you’ve probably heard of DuPont™ Kevlar®. It’s the “miracle fiber” in the bullet-resistant vest that saves the hero cop in the final scene. And while it also reinforces surfboards, enhances running shoes and strengthens tires, it’s still best known for the lifesaving role it plays in the daily lives of first responders. What’s less commonly understood is how Kevlar® has radically evolved in the decades since its invention.
Upon its discovery by Stephanie Kwolek in 1965, Kevlar® was initially used to build stronger, lighter tires. But, researchers quickly realized that Kevlar® could also help to save lives. In the 1970’s, protective vests made of Kevlar® began setting a new safety standard for law enforcement officers. While those early protective vests were bulky, they did protect the men and women who put their lives at risk every day.
Still, DuPont’s scientists and engineers weren’t satisfied. In order to fully maximize this material’s potential, it had to get easier to wear. DuPont began introducing the second generation of materials in 1988. These versions of the fiber were called Kevlar® 129 and Kevlar® KM2 and offered better protection, less bulk and increased the use of Kevlar® in helmets as well as body armor. In 1995, fabric evolution and innovation resulted in Kevlar® puncture-resistant technology. More recently the addition of Kevlar® XP enabled even thinner body armor.
Today vests made with Kevlar® are more protective than ever and can weigh as little as a few pounds—a fact that, for the wearer, is as meaningful as the launch of the material itself. According to Kevin Corby, Global Technology Director for DuPont Protection Solutions, it’s taken a sustained investment in innovation to arrive at this point. He notes that, “This is not an undertaking that guarantees breakthroughs in a year or two. So you need to have staying power.” In other words, innovation can take time—and patience.
Kevin remembers that, until recently “…ballistic vests were all woven aramid fabrics—whether Kevlar® or our competitors’ materials. But the threats that our law enforcement officials face keep going up. So we said, we need to look at hybrid materials. We opened our minds because the best solution may be bringing materials together.”
This patience and creativity has paid off. The newest Kevlar® protective vests offer better flexibility, greatly improving the wearer’s response time in a critical moment. It’s a quiet change accomplished over years that didn’t make headlines. But for the hero cop—or firefighter, or soldier—it’s means the difference between life and death.