Published: 13th March 2020
:: SafeGuardArmor - What is UHMPWPE in Body Armor? ::
Not all body armour is created equal. Especially not in the face of exiting new developments like the Ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene material used in newer models.
You have probably heard of Polyethylene by now. It is the most commonly used plastic in the world, but it started finding its way into the application in the manufacture of ultra-resistant body armour. The so-called ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) is a very tough subset of polyethylene with a strength to weight ratio 8-15 times greater than steel.
Also known by the trade names of Spectra® and Dyneema®, UHMWPE plastics and yarns are commonly used for:
• Ballistic uses (Body Armor, Armor Plating).
• Sports and leisure (skydiving, skiing, boating, fishing).
• Ropes and cordage.
• Bulk material handling.
• Porous parts and filter.
• Seatbelts in the Automotive industry.
• Chemical industry.
• Conveyor Belts in the Food processing and beverage machinery.
• Truck trays, bins and hoppers.
UHMWPE has a diverse range of uses due to its versatility and incredible durability. Its coefficient of friction is significantly lower than that of nylon and highly resistant to abrasion, concentrated acids and alkalis, and numerous organic solvents. Using UHMWPE in the manufacture of body armour seems like a no-brainer.
Among the many advantages the new polyethylene brings to the table are:
• Excellent resistance to stress and high resistant to cracking.
• Abrasion wear resistance – 15 times more resistant to abrasion than carbon steel.
• 40% Stronger than Aramid yarns.
• Strong chemical resistance - highly resilient to most alkalis and acid, organic solvents, degreasing agents and electrolytic attack.
• Excellent dielectric properties.
• Self-lubricating – very low coefficient of friction (comparable to PTFE)
• FDA approved for use in food and medical applications.
• Low specific gravity – is buoyant in water.
The body armour industry has been on the lookout for a material as versatile as UHMWPE for years, so we are bound to see its application increase in the coming years. That being said, all body armor can be defeated–and the new material is not a 'one size fits all' solution. There are certain limitations that should be considered.
UHMWPE has a lower melting point (297° to 305° F) than many common polymers. This makes it not suitable for body armour that will be exposed to high temperatures. The low coefficient of friction can mean that it should not be applied in military-grade body armour that has to sustain prolonged use in harsh terrains.
However, for everyday carry and urban scenarios, body armour made from UHMWPE can protect against many pistol calibers, as well as other threats like knives (if rated) and debris. This material can be used in the vests, but also can be found in inserts that can be added to bags, carriers, or behind stronger plates.
One of the greatest qualities of UHMWPE body armour is its affordability. Not everyone can blow over $500 on protection and, luckily, they don’t have to. UHMWPE falls somewhere between ceramic and steel on factors like cost and durability. It is is super light at around 3 pounds a plate but it is thicker than its steel counterparts. As such, it offers protection against almost all pistol calibers. It stands up to repeated shots, but only about as well as ceramic.
Ultimately, the build of the body armour you choose depends on a lot of factors. It all comes down to you–your protection needs, your budget, and your body. But UHMWPE body armour is a good place to start.
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