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Not All Plastics Are Born Equal

Business, China, Company Strategy, Economics, Indonesia, Knowledge management, Polyolefins, Singapore
By John Richardson on 31-Oct-2011

 DSM’s Dyneema replaces steel in offshore ropes


Source of picture: offshore-technology.com


By John Richardson

THE polyethylene (PE) shopping bags that get thrown away in their millions every day are some considerable distance down the value chain from DSM’s Dyneema ultra-high molecular weight PE (UHMWPE for short).

Applications for Dyneema® include stopping bullets (it is used to make bullet-proof vests and protective panels for military vehicles, for example), and manufacturing ropes that moor oil tankers.

Understandably, therefore, the Dutch life sciences and material sciences company is keen to stress the amount of research and development and technical service that goes into Dyneema®, as attempts are made to both grow existing markets and develop new applications.

“It is 15 times stronger than quality steel, and 40% stronger than aramid fibres, on a weight-by-weight basis,” said Marco Kleuters, vice president, DSM Dyneema Life Protection, APAC.

Other qualities highlighted by Kleuters include its cost effectiveness compared with steel and synthetic rope, its chemical resistance and, despite Dyneema’s strength, the fact that it is light in weight.

How exactly it is manufactured is obviously a closely-guarded secret, given the high value nature of its applications.

Manufacturing involves a proprietary gel-spinning process.

Dyneema® is produced by DSM Dyneema at three locations, namely Heerlen, the Netherlands; Greenville, North Carolina, United States and Flaach, Switzerland. It is also produced in Japan under a joint venture with Toyobo.

DSM Dyneema’s production base was recently extended to China following its successful completion, on 30 September, of the acquisition of a 91.75% in Shandong ICD High Performance Fiber Co. Ltd. (ICD), based in Laiwu, Shandong province, China. The takeover was first announced in February.

ICD produces a high-performance fibre for the local Chinese market.

Where the discussion gets more revealing is the development of the existing and new uses for Dyneema® that will take place at DSM’s APAC Technical Centre in Singapore. The company announced plans to invest in the centre in early October. It will become fully operational in the fourth quarter of next year.

“The centre will house Singapore’s first independent ballistic firing ranges (i.e. not part of a military facility),” added Kleuters.

The technical centre’s 2,500 squares meters of floor space includes two ballistic testing ranges, as well as high tech equipment and testing laboratories. This will enable comprehensive testing to be carried out on the full range of Dyneema’s personal and vehicle protection applications.

The centre will also be involved in R&D work into fibre applications for Dyneeema® (personal and vehicle protection applications involve UHMWPE tape woven into sheet structures), and fibre solutions in general.

Fibre applications include those in the renewable energy sector – for example, wind propulsion systems for the marine industry, which are based on large, automated towing kites.

DSM Venturing – DSM’s corporate venturing unit – made an investment in the German-based manufacturer of these towing kites, SkySails GmbH & Co, in January of this year. The size of the investment wasn’t disclosed.

“Under optimal wind conditions, fuel consumption on ships can be reduced by 50% through using these towing kites,” Kleuters added.

Other applications for Dyneema® include:

*High Protective Textiles: Lightweight safety gloves and garments containing Dyneema® offer higher levels of cut protection, flexibility and comfort. With high abrasion resistance, gloves and garments can be washed and re-used several times, increasing their shelf-life

*Sports: Dyneema® gives yachting lines, sail cloth and rigging the same strength but up to half the weight of traditional materials such as polyester and aramid fibers. Fishing lines are easier to cast and retain their original shape. Kite lines made with Dyneema® have a higher stiffness combined with low elongation make steering easier.

PE has clearly come an awful long way from the 1930’s, when the former UK company ICI brought the first-ever commercial-scale plant on-stream, primarily for only one application area – wire and cable.

And for a thermoplastic that is often derided as “throwaway rubbish” and bad for the environment, DSM can justifiably argue that this is a gross over-simplification.