Innovative Plastics and Polymers, From Neoprene to Biopolymers
The history of innovative plastics and the history of DuPont are closely tied. DuPont materials scientists have been in at the start — from the invention of Neoprene and Nylon, to the development of tougher, stronger materials for everything from automobiles to smartphones, to next-generation biopolymers.
Neoprene: Taking Organic Chemistry in New Directions
In April 1930, DuPont was already at the forefront of organic chemistry research when Dr. Wallace Carothers and his team synthesized the very first polyester super polymer, the forerunner of nylon. The compound would eventually be marketed as Neoprene. DuPont then worked with manufacturers to figure out practical applications for this new material, establishing a focus on collaboration that continues today with DuPont materials. Neoprene also continues on as an important product. Its resistance to high temperatures and chemical solvents make it ideal for gaskets and hoses in cars, and for electrical insulation, among other applications.
Nylon: Plastic’s Most Successful Product
On the heels of Neoprene, the next big discovery was nylon, again by Dr. Carothers and his research team. Nylon was the very first synthetic fiber, and one of the most successful products ever created. Commercial production began in 1939, and from almost the moment it entered the market, “nylon” become synonymous with “stockings.” Nylon fiber was soon developed for numerous applications, from durable fabrics to the belting in automobile tires. This also marked the beginning of nylon as an engineering product designed as a replacement for metal and rubber.
Zytel®: Made to Replace Metal
DuPont engineers quickly realized that innovative plastics could be made strong enough to replace metal – providing production, cost, and in some cases, performance improvements. Whenever automotive engineers were not very familiar with plastics, they continued to use metals wherever possible. When nylon was used, it was sporadic, in a model here and a model there. Under the hood, high temperatures and harsh chemicals made adoption of nylon infrequent.
Then came the development of DuPont™ Zytel® nylon resin, a high- performance mineral- and glass-reinforced version of the PA 66 nylon that greatly expanded nylon’s applications. This performance enhancement led to underhood innovations, such as engine cooling flex fans; transmission thrust washers and spring guides; and air cleaner support brackets. Other applications included throttle control cable end fittings, lever retainers and “umbrellas;” downshift cables and hood release cable jackets. Even valve stem oil deflectors required to resist oil and temperatures as high as 320º F were converted to nylon.
Delrin®: Taking Performance to New Places
In 1956, DuPont™ Delrin® acetal resin took plastic performance farther in a number of ways, including low wear and low friction properties. Combined with strength and stiffness, the properties of Delrin® led to wide use that continues with new grades today in moving parts, including automotive steering systems, throttle linkage components, gears, and motors; conveyor systems; fuel systems; buckles and zippers; ski boots and bindings, and more.
Viton®: Advanced Heat and Chemical Resistance
Almost simultaneously, DuPont introduced DuPont™ Viton®, the world’s first fluoroelastomer, in 1957. Viton® offered dramatic improvements in high temperature stability and compression set resistance, as well as resistance to many aggressive fluids. Its ability to withstand aviation fuels and oils, in particular, made it a natural fit for the aerospace industry, where newer grades remain a standard through the present.
Hytrel®: Multiple Properties in a Single Hybrid
In 1984 came the introduction of DuPont™ Hytrel® thermoplastic polyester elastomer, which combined the flexibility of rubber with the strength and the processability of thermoplastics. Parts made with Hytrel® thermoplastic polyester elastomer resin can flex in multiple directions, cycle after cycle, long after rubber would break. A prime example of its automotive application is the Constant Velocity Joint (CVJ) boot. Constantly in use for 29 years, with over a billion boots in service, and each subject to an average of 150,000 miles of wear, Hytrel® can claim no reported material failures on the road.
Biopolymers: Reducing Oil Use With Renewably Sourced Materials
Markets change as the world’s needs change, and DuPont is changing to meet those needs. One of our key initiatives is to collaborate with manufacturers to create more sustainable solutions, from lighter materials that support fuel efficiency to next-generation biopolymers.
DuPont offers one of the industry’s broadest lines of renewably-sourced biopolymers, including DuPont™ Sorona® EP, Zytel® RS and Hytel® RS. These are the kind of innovative plastics we expect to have a historic impact for generations to come.