Manufacturing - Polymer Science

Nylon Evolves into a New Polymer

DuPont launched nylon in 1939. Now, almost 80 years later, the company overhauled and updated nylon for the 21st century and made it 3D printable.

Nylon captivated the world’s attention when “Miss Chemistry” modeled nylon hosiery that claimed to be “better than silk” at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. The world’s first commercially successful synthetic thermoplastic polymer, it was invented by two scientists at DuPont, Julian Hill and Wallace Carothers, after more than one hundred attempts.

The adoption of nylon rapidly expanded as the marketplace created new applications for this lightweight, strong and inexpensive material. In a short time, nylon was also used in toothbrush bristles, combs, dresses, food packaging films, tires, and more. The versatile material helped to revolutionize the fashion industry and it was only the beginning for chemistry of this type, as scientists and engineers continued to explore new ideas that would build on the functionality of this polymer known to researchers as Nylon 66.

As technology evolved towards more portable consumer devices, and more sustainable automobiles, for example, the demand for lighter-weight, more durable plastics tailored for these new uses arose. Scientists and engineers responded by innovating new polymers at the molecular level. Innovation to perfect attributes like water resistance, light-weight, high-temperature-use, flexibility and others helped polymers fulfill their promise.

DuPont Zytel resin is one of those advanced polymers, with applications across a broad spectrum of industries. In 1996, American sprinter Michael Johnson was the fastest man alive. He blazed his way to gold in the 200m and 400m at the Atlanta Olympics, becoming the first man to achieve that feat.

On his feet? Now-famous, golden shoes made of this advanced version of nylon, that weighed less than 90g. The shoes weighed next to nothing, yet were stiff and strong enough to withstand the forces of an Olympic sprinter accelerating to top speed.

Nowadays, Daimler Benz just used the resin to create the world’s first polymer oil pan for instance. It weighs 1.27kg less than an aluminum pan, is stiffer, and doesn’t require welding. Lenovo IdeaPad laptop uses it for its casing instead of ABS plastic. It’s stronger, lighter, and 25% thinner. And while Zytel has been around almost as long as nylon, it’s recently been overhauled and updated for a 21st century marketplace. It’s 3D printable.

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