Kevlar & Cable Management: Won't Someone Think of the Sharks?

How does this accidental discovery protect cables from JAWS (and people from bullets)?

BY: Shane Weaver

Kevlar is resistant

What IS it, Anyway?

You've probably heard of Kevlar, even if you aren't exactly sure of what it is. At the very least, you're likely aware that it's a tough, lightweight material used in things like body armor. But its properties make it useful for a number of things other than bulletproof vests, and some of these applications may surprise you.

But first, a bit of background. Kevlar is a synthetic polymer (and, incidentally, the name of a Hard Rock band from Erie, Pennsylvania, because OF COURSE it is). It was developed somewhat accidentally by a DuPont chemist named Stephanie Kwolek in 1965. While attempting to develop a fiber in order to create a better reinforced car tire, she kept finding that her solution came out thin and cloudy, rather than clear and goopy like she expected. While a less inquisitive mind might have dumped the concoction down the drain and let Mother Earth deal with it - this was the 1960s, it was a different time - Kwolek investigated further and noticed that liquid crystals would form in the solution under certain conditions, which was unprecedented in the world of polymers. After further testing, it was revealed that this new substance was 9 times stronger than anything Kwolek had previously come up with. And thus, Kevlar was born, along with an entirely new field of polymer chemistry research.

It should be noted that Kevlar is the brand name. The actual substance is known as poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide. Hard Rock bands in search of a name, take note: as far as we know, that one is still up for grabs.

Kevlar vs Stainless Steel in tensile strength

What's So Great About It?

Kevlar is notable for its high tensile strength-to-weight ratio, which is five times stronger than steel. In technical terms (yaawwn) when the polymer is spun its tensile strength is 3,620 MPa with a relative density of 1.44. We looked up what that means, so you don't have to: MPa refers to “megapascals,” which describe force per unit area.

When spun together, the strands form inter-molecular hydrogen bonds that create the aforementioned "crazy high tensile strength" (so much for technical terms). It retains this strength even when things get really, really cold (including cryogenic temperatures, ie. -196° C) and it actually gets STRONGER by a little bit in colder situations. It's not impervious to heat, but it can endure temperatures of 500° F (260° C) with a 50% strength reduction after 70 hours, which is nothing to sneeze at. We can't even stay in a hot tub for more than like, fifteen minutes.

Kevlar is used in many applications

So, What Do We Use It For?

Kevlar is used in all kinds of applications where tough, lightweight material seems like a good idea. As we previously mentioned, it is often used to make bullet proof vests, and it's true that Kevlar is used for many different types of safety equipment and personal protection devices, including helmets and masks. It's also found in less adventurous items such as gloves and jackets meant to protect the user from abrasions and cuts.

It's also found in the world of musical instruments: string, percussion and woodwinds all benefit from the strength/flexibility dynamic of Kevlar. It can be found in sports equipment as well, from tennis rackets to bicycle tires. Frying pans are coated with it (as an alternative to Teflon), ropes are woven from it, and brake pads use it as a replacement for (much more toxic) asbestos.

But the important thing to us and the industries we serve, after all these words about Kevlar, is how the substance relates to cable management. We've mentioned that it's extremely abrasion resistant, stronger than steel, can withstand a broad range of temperatures, and is lightweight and flexible…all qualities that are exceptionally valuable for sleeving, an essential solution for bundling and protecting wires and cables. With all of its properties, Kevlar and Kevlar-Inpregnated Sleeving are ideal choices for extreme conditions.

undersea cable versus JAWS 2

Didn't You Say Something About Sharks?

Yes. Yes we did. It's like this: Kevlar is used to wrap fiber optic cables to form a protective strengthening buffer, and depending on the application can be wrapped around the individual fibers, or the whole bundle. This comes in handy for protecting underwater international communications cables from shark attacks, of all things. The hungry fish, drawn to electrical charges (like those given off by living creatures, ie. shark prey), have been known to attack the cables, which as you can imagine does not end well for the cables or the sharks. A protective jacket of Kevlar can help keep your internet working smoothly, and maybe save a few of our undersea friends to boot. Incidentally [Spoiler Alert], this is exactly how they kill the titular creature in JAWS 2. So who knew that a 1978 movie would predict the problems faced by companies like Google 35 years later?

Of course, with all that Kevlar in the world of cabling, you'll need something to cut through it. That's where Kevlar Shears come in. After all, something that's noteworthy for resisting abrasion wouldn't live up to its reputation if just anything could cut it, right? And while you're rounding out your Kevlar collection, you might as well pick up some Greenlee Conduit Measuring Tape. Guess what it's made out of! Go on, Guess. (It's Kevlar).

So now you know a little bit more about this lightweight but ridiculously strong material, and why it's a great choice for braided sleeving material. As far as reasons go, “Sharks Can't Bite Through It” is a pretty good one, we think.


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