Composites Manufacturing Magazine

50 Years of Kevlar Innovations

Kevin Corby
Global Technology Director, DuPont Protection Technologies

DuPont is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a widely popular advanced material – Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide, better known as Kevlar®. First discovered by Stephanie Kwolek while researching for a new lightweight strong fiber to use for tires, the material has been used in countless applications.

Composites Manufacturing Interviews discussed Kevlar’s applications, milestone and future with Kevin Corby, Global Technology Director of DuPont Protection Technologies, where he develops advanced materials in the areas of high-strength and high-temperature fibers, technical nonwovens including nanofiber nonwovens and new applications across a spectrum of end-use markets.

Kevlar is best known for its use in body armor, but it is also used in fiber optic cables, mining belts, commercial aircraft, city roads and many consumer products. What makes it a good fit for all kinds of applications? How can composite manufacturers help break their materials into as many new applications and markets as Kevlar has over the years?

Kevlar® is used where there is a need is for stronger, lighter and more durable protection, enabling better performance. DuPont has the ingredients and the expertise to help meet our customers’ needs – from an expanded portfolio of fibers to new fabrics and colors, DuPont is also unique in our ability to combine our material science expertise and our Global Collaboratory – our work with academics, governments, companies and organizations around the world – to push the boundaries of advanced materials, creating improved and higher-performing products across multiple segments and geographies. If you can expand your capabilities through a variety of partnerships and collaborations, the number of potential applications for your advanced materials are really only limited by your imagination and willingness to try new things.

Similarly, DuPont has continued to innovate with Kevlar fibers and products since its invention. How can companies best lead R&D efforts to innovate with their own materials?

DuPont has a relentless drive to understand and exploit the foundational science for products like Kevlar and for the products made with Kevlar. That opens the door to true innovation.  We focus on the important challenges of protecting people, critical processes and infrastructure with the customers and end-users. My advice to leaders of R&D is to build collaborative relationships with customers in a way that all the challenges a customer may face bringing innovations to commercial reality can be addressed. We not only produce and deliver high performance materials to customers, but we also build and test functional prototypes, model the behavior of the end-use product to predict performance under use, and do systems-level engineering. When our customers and DuPont bring the full range of our capabilities together, innovations will continue to happen. This requires integrating our own development process with that of the customers, and that depends on a high level of trust to achieve that level of commitment by both parties.  

The composites industry is pushing for more growth through programs like the recently announced Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. What is DuPont doing to contribute to the composite and advanced materials industry’s growth, and what role does Kevlar play?

DuPont Protection Technologies resides within the Advanced Materials portfolio of DuPont businesses. Our mission and continuing heritage is to be the global innovation leader for scientifically engineered products and systems that protect people, critical processes and the environment. Through collaboration with customers, governments, regulators and other DuPont businesses we continue to identify and capture new opportunities for growth and innovation. DuPont Kevlar continues to be an important contributor to our advanced materials platform.

What is DuPont’s greatest pride in the growth and legacy of Kevlar over the past 50 years?

DuPont Kevlar helps enable one to challenge those boundaries that limit the use of other materials. Kevlar can handle extreme conditions such as heat and flame, zero gravity and ballistics, which is why it has helped enable incredible feats from deep space exploration to world record-breaking athleticism. Stephanie Kwolek, the DuPont scientist who made the discoveries that led to DuPont Kevlar 50 years ago, pushed the boundaries of what others thought possible. On day she died last June at the age of 90, DuPont was announcing the sale of the one millionth bullet resistant vest made with Kevlar® XP™ – just the latest innovation in ballistic technology with DuPont Kevlar. She has left a legacy of tens of thousands of lives impacted by her discovery.

What do you hope to see for the future of Kevlar?

We have exciting plans for growth and innovation. Much of our innovation is centered on providing lighter-weight, higher-strength solutions, such as high-performance sporting equipment for Armada Skis and adidas, mechanical industrial personal protective equipment for MCR Safety and Youngstown Glove, and consumer products such as Motorola cell phones and Goodyear tires. There is no limit to where this material can go next. We are working with our customers and licensees continually to help enable them to design better products with our materials, and we continue to advance our own pipeline of innovation.