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Many people associate body armor with kevlar because of the various portrayals used in media and society. However, those more familiar with armor know that there are actually many different types and classifications of body armor. Kevlar is one of the most popular and well-known types of body armor, but it’s very related to another common type of armor known as Aramid.
Aramid is a type of fiber that is known for its strength and durability. Kevlar is essentially a subclass of Aramid because it uses a para-aramid structure, and it’s related to other types of Aramids. Kevlar is also very strong and durable.
At first glance, you may confuse Kevlar and Aramid for being the same type of material, and essentially they are equivalent, but they do have minor differences. A lot of the differences are very technical and small, so they aren’t really substantial for the average person. However, if you’re interested in body armor, this article will explain the key differences and what you need to consider when using them for body armor.
Similarities Between Kevlar and Aramid
Before we begin discussing the key differences between the two types of armor, we should first talk about what makes them similar. Depending on which sources you look at, you can get these two mixed up very easily because they’re so alike.
For all practical purposes, you can essentially treat these two types as the same thing, but, to be more technical, Kevlar is an Aramid classification.
Let’s begin by further defining what Aramid fiber is: it’s a strong performing fiber that is made up of molecular polymer chains. What this means is that its structure is made up of repeated chains of molecules. The term Aramid actually stands for “aromatic polyamide,” and because of this, it allows the fiber to be very strong yet also very light.
This also allows for a number of other benefits:
- Abrasion resistance
- Heat resistance
- Low flammability
Now it’s time to talk about why Kevlar is so similar to Aramid: it’s because, as mentioned before, Kevlar is based on the Aramid structure. Kevlar is a very strong fiber also, and it inherits a lot of the same benefits that Aramid provides.
What makes it a subclass is the fact that Kevlar is known as a para-aramid, meaning that it still has a polymer structure, but the polymers are long, hard crystalline polymers. The “para” indicates the position and structure of the different polymers.
This is why it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish these two materials because they have the same basic structure. It’s often rare to even see the term Aramid being used because most people end up referring to Kevlar or other types of para-aramids.
When these materials were originally being developed, they were both meant for commercial applications. Still, people started to realize how strong and versatile these materials could be, and they’ve now evolved into the armor types we know today.
Because these materials are so similar, they have very similar production processes. Both of these armor materials are made by spinning the created polymer into a fiber to explain it simply.
To fully explain how these materials are made, there would be a lot of talk about their chemical makeup and bonds, so it’s best to imagine the material being spun and created into the body armor’s individual layers.
Differences Between Kevlar and Aramid
Now that we’ve discussed what makes these two armor types similar, we can now talk about their key differences and how they’re used.
We now know that these are two different types of materials, and Kevlar was based on Aramid, so it makes sense that Aramid was developed before Kevlar. People started to develop Aramid in the early 1960s and, once people learned about all its various advantages, development for Kevlar began shortly after.
Because Aramid is a general structure, many more people and companies studied its properties and used them during initial development. It basically became a worldwide phenomenon as many people and scientists in different countries were starting to realize its potential.
This led to research and creation for para-aramids in general, but Kevlar itself had a more contained development period.
Kevlar was discovered by a Polish-American scientist who was working on a project to find a suitable material for tires in response to a gas shortage. She tested creating various materials, and she observed how strong and durable the Kevlar was and reported it to her supervisors.
Her discovery actually led to the creation of a new polymer chemistry field, which helped people quickly realize what kind of potential these materials have, especially for body armor.
In today’s world, these materials are used everywhere. The list of all its applications and uses would be too long, so we will focus on distinguishing between these two materials.
Aramid is used much more than Kevlar, and that’s simply because Aramid is a more generalized material and Kevlar is a substructure of Aramid. In some cases, Kevlar is even classified as an Aramid, so that may bloat its numbers. Regardless, Aramid is more applicable on a wider scale.
However, this doesn’t mean that Kevlar is not a versatile material as well. Because Kevlar receives more focus due to its added strength, there are a lot of different types of Kevlar that you can use, and there are various classifications, like buying different individual types of body armor.
In fact, Kevlar is actually a brand, and its name has been trademarked by the company that initially produced them.
Kevlar has many types of strands, which include:
- Kevlar AP
- Kevlar K
- Kevlar KM2
- Kevlar XP
When you look at these two materials in general, there really aren’t many differences between them, but it’s important to know their differences depending on their application.
There are several subtle differences that we can continue to discuss, but in terms of their use in body armor, these two materials are essentially the same. In fact, most manufacturers and producers classify Kevlar and Aramid as the same thing, and they usually refer to it as Kevlar.
Advantages of Kevlar Armor
In general, Kevlar and Aramid are mainly used for various commercial applications, but one of its applications that needs to be taken seriously is its use in body armor. It’s sort of ironic that many people associate this strong material exclusively with body armor because it’s actually used much more in other fields. Still, they’re just not aware of it. That being said, it makes sense why people trust Kevlar for the use of body armor.
As explained earlier, Kevlar inherits many of the same benefits that general Aramids do, but it becomes more rigid and durable in general due to its increased bond strength. Some of the biggest advantages for using Kevlar in body armor include:
- It has a very high melting point
- It’s very resistant to low temperature
- It’s resistant to various chemical attacks
There are many more reasons why Kevlar is strong and effective in general, but we should specifically evaluate why it’s used for body armor.
One common theme that you may have noticed in the list of advantages is the fact that Kevlar is resistant to the environment in general. Essentially, Kevlar holds its shape and form no matter what kind of environment or condition you put it in. Even when placed in hot water, Kevlar armor is known to be resistant to moisture as well. This is very important because Kevlar armor is used in many different types of situations.
Many people think that only the army or military uses high-grade Kevlar armor, but local law enforcement and even firefighters are known to use Kevlar armor on certain occasions. Even for personal use, whatever that may be, it’s good that Kevlar can be used in multiple situations.
Another key benefit that comes as a surprise to most people is the fact that Kevlar is also resistant to chemical attacks.
This kind of protection is much more valuable to the military rather than those working in local law enforcement or protection. At the military level, soldiers may experience attacks outside of guns and bullets, so the fact that Kevlar can help protect against chemical warfare is crucial.
Strength and Durability
Whenever Kevlar’s strength is mentioned, it’s because of its fiber structure. Kevlar’s combined repeating units of polymers we’ve mentioned make up a very strong and sturdy base. What’s important to note for Kevlar is that its molecules have a special type of bond, which gives Kevlar an added layer of strength.
We say that Kevlar is strong because it’s very rigid and resistant to changing its shape under substantial force. This is what makes Kevlar very good under impact force, which is very applicable for preventing bullets.
However, when you start to stretch and pull Kevlar, it becomes more of an issue, and that will be discussed later on in the article.
Preventing Penetrating Bullets
You can now see why Kevlar is so strong, but how does that directly translate to preventing bullets from getting through it?
The biggest protection Kevlar armor provides is that it reduces the force of impact, and this especially applies to high-speed bullets. Here’s how it works: when the bullet hits the armor, the energy gets absorbed by the multiple fibers, and it’s spread throughout the vest to reduce the impact of the bullet.
The structure of Kevlar is what allows it to stop bullets, and if you want to increase your body armor’s effectiveness, there are different factors you can consider:
- One thing to remember is that there are different grades of Kevlar armor, so you probably want to research and evaluate which one will be the most effective for you.
- Another very important factor for reducing bullet impact is layers. What makes the Kevlar’s structure so strong is not the strength of the individual polymer but the combined strength of all the polymers added together. The more fibers you use, the stronger your armor is. One obvious drawback is the added weight, but remember that Kevlar is very light, so you can get a lot of protection for the weight that you use.
Disadvantages of Kevlar/Aramid Armor
Up until this point, it may seem as though Kevlar has no significant drawbacks, and depending on its application, that might be right. However, nothing exists without some sort of downside, and that even applies to something as strong as Kevlar.
When under the following conditions, the effectiveness of Kevlar armor can start to drop dramatically:
- Long exposure to UV light
- Long exposure to strong acids and bases
- Exposure to strong compressive forces
Exposure to UV Light
One of Kevlar’s biggest benefits was the fact that it was very resistant to whatever kind of conditions and environments where it was used. That is still true for the most part, but it does have one glaring exception: the sun.
When exposed to ultraviolet light for long periods, the Kevlar armor can start to degrade. Depending on the time of exposure and intensity, it can have various effects.
In the best-case scenario, all that could happen is that your Kevlar armor could start to discolor. This wouldn’t really affect its strength and protectiveness, but in the worst-case scenario, the fibers in the Kevlar could actually start to break down. This would significantly impact the armor’s strength, and that would most likely make it useless.
What’s important to keep in mind is that this would only happen in long, intense UV light exposure. Depending on your situation, this may never happen to you for this defect to become a concern.
But for a soldier staying in the desert for long periods of time, this may be something of which they have to be aware.
Exposure to Strong Chemicals
This is another defect that comes as an exception to a presumed strength. It was explained earlier that one of Kevlar armor’s highlights was the fact that it could sustain chemical attacks. This is still generally true, but it doesn’t hold up under certain intense conditions. In this case, that condition is exposure to strong chemicals over time, more specifically, acids and bases.
Again, this will only be a valid concern depending on your situation and use for Kevlar armor, but it’s something you should keep in mind. This will most likely only affect those dealing with chemical warfare, so other than that, this doesn’t really become a significant issue.
You should keep in mind that the Kevlar armor will only start to break down from exposure to strong acids and bases, not just any type of chemical. It’s also important to realize that you would have to be exposed to these chemicals for a long period of time.
If you’ve been chemically attacked, in most cases, before the chemicals actually start to make a difference, you would probably switch out your Kevlar armor. But to reiterate, this will only be an issue depending on your situation.
Exposure to Strong Compressive Forces
Before we discuss what is most likely the most significant drawback for Kevlar armor, we should first define what a compressive force is.
A compressive force is a force that’s placed onto an object where it would cause that object to reduce in size or shrink. The issue for Kevlar armor is that it has low compressive strength, which means it’s not very resistant to compressive forces.
This means that Kevlar isn’t good at retaining its shape when compressed; in other words, it’s very squishy. This is very bad for its sturdiness and is why, even though Kevlar is very strong and rigid, it’s not used in situations where there would be a lot of compressive force, such as in buildings.
This problem isn’t that drastic, but it’s definitely something you need to be aware of, no matter for which application you’re using Kevlar.
One last thing to mention is the tensile strength of Kevlar armor and how it could affect its usability. It was just mentioned that when we describe Kevlar’s strength and rigidness, we are not referring to its compressive strength, but in fact, its tensile strength.
Tensile strength is how resistant an object is to being pulled: basically the opposite of compressive strength.
Now, why are we mentioning its tensile strength when it’s supposed to be a benefit? Well, this is yet another example where one of Kevlar’s benefits can actually become negative in a certain situation. Don’t be confused. It’s a good thing that Kevlar is strong and rigid, it’s one of the many reasons it’s become so popular, but this can be an issue when used in body armor.
Because Kevlar can be so tense and rigid, it can easily restrict movement when worn as body armor. Its tensile strength is what makes it so protective, but it can be very hard to operate while wearing some.
What you should take away is that you need to find a good balance between the level of protection you get from Kevlar armor and your range of motion. And again, this will depend on the specific application and situation you have planned.
Final Words About Kevlar and Aramid
Kevlar is one of the most, if not the most, popular materials used in body armor today, and now you know why that’s the case. In terms of comparing Kevlar vs. Aramid, their key differences are probably not going to be significant for most people, especially when you consider the fact that most manufacturers classify them as the same thing.
Regardless of whether or not these differences make an impact on your situation, it’s clear to see why Kevlar is effective to use in body armor and why these two materials as a whole are used in many different fields.
If you’re interested in looking at and purchasing some quality Kevlar body armor, feel free to take a look at the following links: It could end up being a bullet stopper.
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