The hunt for Black Dyneema®
Dyneema® fiber has only ever been available in its natural color, white. Which is not an issue for many applications. Unless, that is, you manufacture protective gloves or operate a fish-farm. Or make car seatbelts, ballistic vests, fishing line or cycling shorts. In these cases and others, you probably want a black colored Dyneema®. Because black hides dirt. Because black looks cool or is more acceptable to your customers. Or simply because it stands out less when not standing out is what you want.
If you are one of those customers, you face a dilemma. Dyneema® is the obvious choice for its strength and weight. But then there’s the color. There are ways around this, though. One is to coat the fiber. But coatings stick poorly to Dyneema® and could negatively affect its surface. This might even reduce the product’s service life. Another option is to mask its whiteness by blending it with more easily dyed fibers, like polyester and nylon. But adding nylon and polyester increases overall weight, which negates one of the reasons for specifying Dyneema® in the first place. It also makes downstream customer processing and manufacturing more complex.
The market wants a dark color too
So, while workable, none of these situations is ideal. “In recent years we kept hearing signals from the market about wanting different colors of Dyneema® for textile-oriented applications like sportswear, outerwear – the Performance Apparel part of our business,” says Peto Verdaasdonk, Applied Research Manager for High Performance Textiles within DSM Dyneema. “And taking in feedback from other business segments, we learned that other customers, too, were searching for Black Dyneema®.”
That feedback led to Verdaasdonk and his team to run experiments in DSM Dyneema’s pilot facility, which supports rapid prototyping, and provided samples to selected customers. “We began working with customers from the very early stages – not just showing something and taking it away with us, but leaving real samples they could work with to discover the value for their application,” explains Verdaasdonk. “We got such a positive response that we decided to launch an official project to bring Black Dyneema® to the market.”
No coatings, no blends, just Dyneema® in black
The hunt was on for a way to make Dyneema® black. All the way through. Not a coating. Not a blend with something else. “The concept seemed straightforward,” explains Verdaasdonk. “Add some black colorant during the process and you get Black Dyneema®.” But what worked in a pilot plant to make samples for a customer wouldn’t work at scale. “It wasn’t a solution suitable for the long term because of the nature of our process,” he adds.
Adding a color proves to the easy part
So if getting the colorant into the fiber wasn’t a problem, what was? It was ensuring that it was in a form which wouldn’t have a negative impact on the fiber’s performance or the production process. Because of the nature of the polymer, just adding a colorant without calibrating it to the subsequent process could have caused all kinds of production, quality or specification problems. “If you don’t handle that carefully it will create havoc,” notes Verdaasdonk. Another risk factor was that the colorant might contaminate other production lines.
The team launched an extensive internal development program to make sure that the colorant they used would fit with the Dyneema® process, which is one of the keys to the properties and performance of Dyneema®. We started working with suppliers very early on to develop the right system in which to handle this material,” says Verdaasdonk. The eventual result was the development of material “that also has some secret ingredients that enable us to maintain the high quality of our process,” as Verdaasdonk puts it, mysteriously. “The result is that, apart from the colorant to give the color, we have not introduced anything to our fiber that was not already there previously. We don’t add anything that may interfere with the operation or handling or performance of the product.”
White? Black? The choice is now yours
And this is why the technical performance of Black Dyneema® is exactly the same as that of white Dyneema®: very high breaking strength and stiffness, extremely low elongation, low density, high moisture and UV resistance and excellent durability and quality.
Which leaves just one more question: what about other colors? “For us, this is the starting point on our color journey,” says Verdaasdonk, enigmatically. “And we haven’t finished yet.”
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