Dupont: Kevlar® for Industrial Protective Apparel

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Kevlar® fiber is incredibly strong, tough, light, flexible, heat, flame and cut resistant. This unique combination of high-performance properties makes Kevlar® fiber the solution for many demanding applications:

  • Ballistic vests & hard armor
  • Cut- and heat-resistant gloves & sleeves
  • Firefighter turnout gear
  • Ropes & cables
  • Tires / Mechanical rubber goods
  • Composites

In addition to its impressive list of inherent properties, Kevlar® is available in a wide range of fiber forms, providing protective-apparel manufacturers with plenty of design flexibility. Some of these fiber forms include spun yarns, textured filaments, and engineered blends that incorporate other fibers and colors. Consequently, end-users can rely on the fact that they will be able to benefit from the protection offered by Kevlar® regardless of their industrial application. As an example, the range of Kevlar® gloves goes from 15-gauge, lightweight cut-resistant gloves, all the way to heavyweight, heat-resistant mitts. Gloves made with 100% Kevlar® fiber provide good thermal-insulation properties for hot or cold working environments. Another important performance criteria to consider when selecting the appropriate PPE is the care, cleaning and disposal of the product. The ability to launder and recondition gloves made of Kevlar® has been an important element of the overall value proposition and widespread industrial acceptance. Laundering to clean the most challenging greases and oils does not affect the cut resistance of Kevlar®. Some oleophatic fibers like HPPE can stain very easily upon exposure to oils and grease. Kevlar® brand fibers are resistant to many chemicals and solvents. However, strong acids, bases, and certain oxidizers like chlorine bleach, cause rapid degradation of the fiber. Industrial launderers operate in the mid PH ranges (4-8), never lower or higher. In addition, the elimination of chlorine bleach in the cleaning of industrial apparel does not hinder the ability to clean it. Keep in mind that bleach would have to be avoided if the PPE contained spandex fibers anyway, so if it is absolutely necessary to bleach PPE, then oxygen bleaches can be used as an alternative without issue.

The following case study illustrates how technological advances have revolutionized cut protection:

A safety executive at an assembly facility had heard about the high-level protection of gloves made of Kevlar®. He suggested a trial, and a comparison study was set up at the auto assembly plant for a 10-week period, measuring durability, protection, and cost of Kevlar® gloves, versus leather and cotton gloves. The results were dramatic. The Kevlar® gloves cost approximately $6 a pair, while the leather gloves were $1.60 and cotton only 80¢ a pair, which meant that to be cost effective, the Kevlar® gloves would need to outlast the leather gloves by four times and the cotton by eight times. Despite the higher purchase price, the Kevlar® gloves tested measurably better on all fronts. The total cost for the Kevlar® gloves during the 10-week trial was $2,187, while the combined cost for the cotton and leather gloves used was $2,904 —a savings of 25% in total cost. And, most important, there were no hand injuries during the period to workers who were protected by gloves made of Kevlar®. Two years later, having switched over to Kevlar®, those employees who adopted the new technology (75% of plant workers) experienced zero laceration injuries, while the shop’s total hand and arm injuries were reduced from a previous total of 52 down to only 26. “In the three years of use here, we’ve yet to register a single serious laceration injury to a worker wearing these goves,” the safety engineer said. “In my opinion, they are an investment that offers a payout to everyone.” It was clearly demonstrated that Kevlar® helped workers at the assembly plant avoid the pain and suffering of hand and arm injuries while increasing their productivity. “And, the plant cut tens of thousands of dollars from its body shop injury and medical costs,” the safety executive said. “In that respect, it’s like finding a new profit center.”

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