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Spreading Magic Through the Appliance of Science

Keeping people safe with Dyneema®

23 September 2014 - From police officers to the armed forces, millions of people around the world are being kept safer by life protection technology with Dyneema®. And for Harm van der Werff, this kind of real-world application of groundbreaking science is what makes his job worthwhile.

“It’s capable of so much more…”

Behind the launch of Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology – DSM Dyneema’s latest bar-raising innovation in ballistic protection – lies six years of hard work by the company’s scientists and engineers, its customers, development partners, universities, and members of the scientific community. 

"I knew that our technology was capable of doing much more than we were doing with it at the time" - Harm van der Werff

Harm van der Werff is one of those scientists. He joined DSM’s corporate research organization in 2003, and in 2008 moved to DSM Dyneema to work on ballistic protection.

“I worked on both very high strength UHMWPE fibers, at university, and in aramid-based ballistic protection before joining DSM, and so I really expected that our UHMWPE technology would be capable of doing much more than we were doing with it at the time,” he explains. Joining DSM Dyneema gave me the chance to do something good in life protection.” 

700 patents and growing

DSM invented the UHMWPE fiber and process, which it brands Dyneema®, and so can justifiably claim to understand the material and its potential uses better than anyone else. Today, the DSM Dyneema portfolio covers fiber, tape, sheets, technology, and applications, and the business claims over 150 inventions protected by over 700 filed patents and patent-applications worldwide.This expanding patent portfolio reflects the growing number of uses to which Dyneema® is being put. Originally used in ropes and lines, today Dyneema® is also used in life protection, to make nets, to make performance textiles, and in composites and laminates. The fusion of market demand, science, technology, and engineering has led to breakthrough innovations that include Dyneema® Diamond Technology for cut protection, Dyneema® Max Technology for making creep-resistant ropes, and Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology for improved lightweight ballistic armor.

"The real magic happens between end users and customers, scientists, engineers, designers and application developers." - Harm van der Werff

Magic things happen when science crosses boundaries

The development of new generations of Dyneema® fiber and its adaptation to new applications is supported by 60-80 scientists and engineers. Added to this are the customers, development partners, universities and others in the scientific community with whom they work on processing know how, knowledge of materials, and application experience. “The real magic happens between end users and customers, scientists, engineers, designers and application developers,” says Van der Werff.

An open development model

Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology is a good example of this. Getting the technology to market was not straightforward. Not only was there the research challenge, there was also the need to persuade DSM Dyneema, potential development partners and potential customers of its benefits. “One challenge was to scale up Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology to production line quantities,” notes Van der Werff. To do so, he worked with external parties and research organizations, an increasingly normal practice within DSM. These included the Frauenhof Institute – “We supplied the data about how our fiber works, and they made the models for it” – and DARPA, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Van der Werff also had to persuade DSM Dyneema’s marketers of the value of his breakthrough. “Marketing’s focus is much more short term. That’s a big difference. But I always try to make them aware of the possibilities, and the response to ballistic fiber has always been positive because they see it positions us as a market leader.” In fact, while the Dyneema® used in vehicle armor is already up to 40% lighter than older technologies like aramids – and 75% lighter than steel – Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology is a further 25% lighter, yet it offers exactly the same protection.

"I want to demonstrate our ballistic model and give it to the world for ballistic proofing" - Harm van der Werff

A lot of potential to make an impact

With Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology now on the market, Van der Werff is focusing on another aspect of his job: spreading the word. “I’m not an expert in ballistics, but I am proud to show those who are that we are doing something good in this area,” he explains. “I also want to demonstrate our ballistic model and give it to the world for ballistic proofing. Researchers can get the model, put in their numbers, and then see what happens. Competitors will benefit, but the materials will as well.”

And that, ultimately, is the key point for Van der Werff. “We can do even more. What we do depends on customer needs and expense, but from the science perspective we can go much further and make a material that the world has never seen. In my field, ballistic applications, it is all about weight, so maybe we can make something twice as light? Of course, we have to solve some problems, but we have things under the hood; there is a lot of potential in the world of fiber. At DSM Dyneema, we think about formulas, but in the end there is a tangible result: you can hold things in place with Dyneema®, pull with it, or, as with Dyneema® Force Multiplier Technology, protect with it. Working at DSM, you make an impact.”

Research paper by Harm van der Werff - A non-linear orthotropic hydrocode model for ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene in impact simulations

Read the research paper

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