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DSM Dyneema Ballistic Materials
By: LAW and ORDER Staff
Dyneema® is an advanced form of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE). It is used as a multi-filament fiber in yarn, in unidirectional sheets, and in tape for soft and hard ballistic materials. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that UHMWPE is just plastic. That is like thinking a hemp rope and steel cable are pretty much the same.
Dyneema is 15 times stronger than steel. Yet Dyneema is up to 40% lighter than other ballistic materials like aramids. Dyneema Unidirectional (UD) has a very high strength-to-weight ratio and gives high levels of ballistic protection with light weight and thin armor profile. Dyneema ballistic tape is used in a wide range of armor solutions.
Aramid and UHMWPE
Body armor manufacturers take two totally different approaches—use two totally different materials—in their ballistic panels. One material is an aramid fiber. The other material is UHMWPE. Many body armor makers use both materials, one for one application and the other for another. A few body armor makers offer different lines of ballistic vests with aramid fiber used in one product line and UHMWPE in another.
Aramid fibers are a class of strong and heat-resistant synthetic fibers used in ballistic-rated body armor fabric. These “aromatic polyamide” fibers have highly oriented, long-chain molecules along the fiber axis for the strongest chemical bonds. In 1973, DuPont introduced the aramid fiber, Kevlar. It is this long chemical chain of very axis-oriented molecules that gives aramid fibers their ballistic properties. This strength is something that aramids share with another synthetic fiber, UHMWPE.
Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), also known as high-modulus polyethylene or high-performance polyethylene has extremely long molecular chains. Longer chemical chains, those with bonds oriented along the axis of the fiber, spread out the load, force or stress. As a result, UHMWPE is a very tough material, with a very high-impact strength. It is widely used in ballistic protection and has a better UV resistance to breakdown than aramids. UHMWPE fibers were introduced in the late-1970s by the Dutch chemical company DSM under the trade name, Dyneema.
Dyneema is one of the armor industry’s lightest weight options. It allows armor designers to cut weight and bulk without sacrificing ballistic protection. This allows modern armor designers and manufacturers to make life protection gear that is lighter and more comfortable.
Law enforcement officers are asked to carry more technology in the field. The extra weight adds up quickly. Dyneema® helps reduce the load, while still providing rated levels of protection in ballistic helmets, vests and inserts. In soft body armor, Dyneema Unidirectional has excellent multi-hit performance, angle shot performance, edge shot performance, structural performance, and lower backface deformation.
Dyneema Soft Ballistic (SB) armor solutions are used in vests and clothing to provide protection against handgun ammunition. Dyneema Hard Ballistic (HB) armor solutions are incorporated into ballistic inserts and helmets to protect against heavier and more penetrating threats such as rifles and high-speed fragments, such as those from IEDs.
Soft body armor made with Dyneema gives the officer protection against a range of threats—including handgun ammunition—while providing the lightest weight options with maximum flexibility and comfort. Vests made with Dyneema are both easier to wear and easier to manufacture.
Ballistic vests with Dyneema can be made up to 40 percent lighter, without a drop in ballistic performance. This reduced weight gives the user increased speed and flexibility, which significantly improves their ease of mobility. Additionally, Dyneema Soft Ballistic (SB) armor solutions can be upgraded with Hard Ballistic (HB) inserts, to address higher threats, such as rifle fire.
Vest inserts made with Dyneema offer ultimate stopping power at lighter weight. By reducing the weight of individual inserts, at the same protection level, Dyneema also provides additional life protection options, when increasing the body surface coverage, without restricting movement or flexibility.
Inserts made with patented Dyneema® Unidirectional (UD) material are regarded as best-in-class and are proven in combat situations to help guard against heavy-duty, multiple-hit threats including AK47 (7.62 x 39 mm) and NATO Ball (7.62 x 51 mm). With Dyneema®, the weight of individual inserts can be reduced by up to 25 percent compared to traditional materials like steel, while still offering the same protection level. This gives manufacturers and end users genuine choice and flexibility in how they design and deploy armor solutions.
Helmets made with Dyneema offer high levels of ballistic protection against threats including most handgun bullets and fast-moving fragments. The use of Dyneema allows a reduction in weight, typically up to 25 percent lighter than next-nearest competitive materials. That means both increased comfort and agility in the field. Decreased weight also gives tactical officers added flexibility, i.e., they can choose to carry more life-saving equipment such as night sights or ballistic visors.
Ballistic shields made with Dyneema® are lighter to carry, improving mobility in the field. With its unmatched strength-to-weight ratio, Dyneema® is the ideal material to incorporate into ballistic shields, such as those carried by SWAT teams and riot officers. Effective against a variety of projectiles, it provides excellent mobility for materials used in frontline tools.
By reducing the weight of individual shield inserts at the same protection level, the option arises of increasing the body surface area covered, without restricting movement or flexibility.
Dyneema Unidirectional (UD)
One of the keys to Dyneema Unidirectional (UD) effectiveness is the way it is produced. As a composite laminate, the UD material has the UHMWPE fibers layered in a criss-cross pattern, i.e., each layer is 90 degrees from the layer above and below it. This criss-cross orientation provides the maximum energy absorption, at the lowest weight with the thinnest fabric.
Another important consideration is the blunt trauma or back face deformation, i.e., how much the stopped bullet pushes into the body. Due to the high sonic velocity within the fiber, the impact energy is dissipated very rapidly over a large area. This makes for the low blunt trauma, the indentation on the inside surface side of the vest.
The result is a material that allows the energy from an impact to be distributed along the fibers much faster and more evenly than conventional, woven fabrics. Dyneema UD is used to make both soft ballistic and hard ballistic grades for ballistic vests, helmets, and inserts and for vehicle armor of all types (land, air and sea).
Dyneema Force Multiplier Technology
At the 2013 IACP Conference, Point Blank Enterprises introduced their Alpha Elite™ Series line of soft body armor using the latest innovation from DSM—Dyneema Force Multiplier Technology. The term “force multiplier” means a factor that greatly increases the effectiveness of something. In this case, one of the world’s strongest fibers has been made even stronger and the unidirectional laminating process is further improved. The result is one of the most advanced ballistic materials available today.
DSM Dyneema engineers created a completely unique UHMWPE polymer using their patented, gel-spinning technology. Using a gel of extremely high molecular weight, they spin it to disentangle the polymeric chain, drawing the fiber to superior ratios. The result is a fiber with new levels of strength.
In making the laminated ballistic material from the ballistic fiber, many thousands of individual fiber filaments are aligned in a unique 90-degree configuration. Placed at right angles to one another and then laminated together, each sheet is able to combine the unique strength of the new fiber with the pliant thinness of the matrix design. Sheets of Dyneema Force Multiplier Technology ballistic material are so light and flexible that they appear semi-transparent.
Point Blank Alpha Elite Series
The Alpha Elite Series was born when Point Blank engineers tested more than 400 different materials to meet the need of the US Special Operations Forces. Dyneema’s Force Multiplier Technology exceeded the standards required for extremely high-performance military applications. And that also made it supremely suitable for both concealable and tactical body armor in law enforcement applications.
“During independent testing, the Alpha Elite ballistic package exceeded all performance requirements, including tests for maximum velocity approaching or exceeding 2,000 fps,” said Michael Foreman, Vice President of Government and International Sales and head of Product Line Management at Point Blank Enterprises. “Test-lab personnel stated that they had never seen this level of performance in a package of this weight and thinness during any other testing of soft-armor ballistic solutions.”
Dyneema fibers in Force Multiplier Technology have a multi-hit performance exceeding the FBI protocol, have a special-threat performance beyond the FBI protocol, and are fully NIJ 0101.06 compliant. Point Blank engineers determined the best ballistic material for the Armed Forces was also the best material for the nation’s law enforcement officers.
Point Blank has become the first trademark licensee in law-enforcement personal protection for this new technology. Since the Dyneema material used in the Alpha Elite Series is made in the U.S., it qualifies under the Berry Amendment. The Alpha Elite Series was born.
With this technology, NIJ Level IIIA performance is now available with comfort levels more typical of Level II body armor. Compared to Point Blank’s previous lightest Level IIIA vest, the Alpha Elite Series vest is a full 12 percent lighter. This ballistic package is available with all core Point Blank Body Armor and Paraclete® advanced tactical armor solutions.
Longevity of Body Armor
DSM has published several studies into the ballistic resistance of artificially aged Dyneema fiber and Dyneema UD grades. These studies found that—extrapolated to real-world conditions—both UHMWPE fiber and UHMWPE unidirectional composites from DSM Dyneema will retain their tensile properties and ballistic performance for five years. This is the typical baseline requirement for ballistic-resistant vests. Even tougher tests have found no significant drop in the ballistic performance of the artificially aged samples. These are impressive results, but they are also theoretical results.
A real-world study explored the retention of ballistic performance of used and real-time aged vests, inserts and helmets made from Dyneema UD unidirectional composite. The items, which ranged in age from five to 12 years old, had either been used by law enforcement officers or military officers in theater or stored. The study found that these used and aged articles continued to perform in line with the specifications that applied when the articles were made and certified. The results are in line with the predictions of DSM’s aging models.
“From the results, DSM concludes that no significant changes in ballistic performances are observed for the aged articles, despite the fact that some are more than a decade old and show significant signs of wear and exposure to moisture.” The Effect of Real Aging on Ballistic Articles made of Dyneema® UD is available for download.