All About Zylon®

Zylon® (or PBO fiber) is a high-strength synthetic polymer whose tensile strength actually exceeds Kevlar®, one of the most prominent and recognizable synthetic fibers on the market. Zylon boasts a tensile strength that is 1.6 times stronger than Kevlar. Beyond that, Zylon can be found in everything from tennis racquets to Mars rovers to heat-resistant clothing. Unlike Kevlar, however, Zylon is more rigid, making it an ideal material for construction projects, ranging from concrete and masonry repair to theoretical space elevator construction.

So, what exactly is Zylon? How is it manufactured? And what applications does it have? Let’s take an in-depth look at this material — as always, you can count on Fiber Brokers International for Zylon scrap recycling, as well as body armor disposal services.

What Is Zylon?

Zylon is a synthetic polymer fiber that features high tensile strength and rigidity, as well as high flame and heat resistance. Zylon was developed by SRI International, and has been continually produced by Toyoba since the ‘80s. This fiber features a unique chemical bond that creates its impressive strength. In fact, Toyoba boasts that a single 1.5 mm fiber strand has sufficient tensile strength to hold the weight of a small car!

Zylon is available in a variety of media, including filament, chopped fiber, staple fiber, spun yarn, and various fabrics. These materials can be further modified and manufactured to produce any number of useful products.

How Is Zylon Manufactured?

Zylon has an isotropic crystal structure that is manufactured by creating a polymer and dry-jet wet spinning the liquid polymer into a fibrous material strand. From there, the fibrous strands can be wound to create yarns, which may be woven for any number of fabric materials. In addition, the fibers can be cut into staple fibers which can be used in further manufacturing processes.

How Is It Used?

Zylon is used in a number of applications throughout numerous industries. You can find zylon in firefighter garments, safety gloves, bulletproof vests, and more. Here’s a brief list of some of the most common uses of Zylon in manufacturing:

  • Protective Clothing: Zylon’s high resistance to heat, flames, and puncturing makes it an ideal material for a number of garments. You can find Zylon in protective firefighter clothing, safety gloves, and heat-resistant garments.
  • Industrial Uses: Zylon has a number of uses in the industrial sector. Zylon can be manufactured into heat-resistant felt for a variety of applications. It can be used as a cable cover material for welding machines (since it can protect cords from hot sparks). It can even be found in cement as a reinforcing material.
  • Sports Equipment: Thanks to Zylon’s strength and rigidity, it’s the ideal material for a variety of sports equipment. You can find Zylon in bike tires, tennis, badminton, and table tennis rackets, bow strings, snowboards, yacht ropes, bike spokes, and even racing cars.
  • Discontinued Body Armor: Zylon used to be utilized as a ballistics-protective material in body armor. However, Zylon body armor unexpectedly failed in a shooting in 2003, resulting in recalls of existing body armor on the market — fortunately, the officer survived, but sustained injuries from the bullet piercing the body armor. The National Institute of Justice investigated the incident, and released an article surrounding the incident and actions taken to improve body armor safety. In their article, Body Armor Safety Initiative, the NIJ describes the incident at hand: “On the night of June 23, 2003, Forest Hills, Pennsylvania, Police Officer Edward Limbacher, wearing body armor constructed primarily of a fiber called Zylon®, threw open the side door of an unmarked Econoline van and stepped out to move in on a drug suspect. The suspect fired, striking Limbacher in the arm and abdomen with .40 caliber rounds. The shot to the abdomen penetrated the body armor Limbacher was wearing. He survived but sustained severe injuries. […] The Forest Hills shooting was the first case ever reported to NIJ in which body armor compliant with the NIJ standard failed to prevent penetration from a bullet it was designed to defeat.” Since the incident, the NIJ has performed further testing and reevaluated its published standards for body armor. Now, Zylon has been discontinued in its use as a ballistics-protective material, and existing Zylon vests and body armor should be dismantled.

When Does Zylon Expire?

Zylon does deteriorate over time. In addition, Zylon isn’t impervious to exposure to various conditions. Be mindful that Zylon isn’t resistant to abrasion against another zylon surface (which can prematurely cause wear of the material). In addition, it has poor UV resistance, and will deteriorate if left in the sun, exposed. Zylon also has moderate abrasion resistance (when applied against other surfaces), and moderate chemical resistance to acids and alkalis. As such, Zylon may not be the best material for certain uses and industries. However, Zylon can be further enhanced through processing and coating. Unprotected, raw zylon may begin to deteriorate in 30 to 60 months, depending on how it is cared for, how it is utilized, and what it is exposed to. You can consult the owner’s manual or manufacturer’s recommendations for the specific service life expectancy for Zylon products. Take note, Zylon ballistics materials have been discontinued, and should be disposed of properly.

How Can Zylon Be Reused or Recycled?

Zylon can be recycled. Zylon materials can be heated to temperatures over 650 degrees Celsius in order to cause the crystalline structure to decompose. Zylon may then be respun. In addition, Zylon can be cut down to make staple fibers which may be respun as well, making strong yarns for manufacturing.

Zylon Recycling From Fiber Brokers

Here at Fiber Brokers, we’re proud to recycle Zylon scrap, damaged Zylon materials, and expired, discontinued Zylon body armor. If you have out-of-service Zylon body armor, Fiber Brokers can provide you with destruction and recycling services that comply with NIJ standards. We provide military and police agencies with the proper paperwork, tracking, and certificates of destruction necessary for secure decommissioning of discontinued, expired, and damaged Zylon ballistics materials. We also purchase and recycle Zylon manufacturing scrap. If you have Zylon products that require recycling, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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