I work in oil, driving new business development and closing sales across the textile, industrial safety, and government contractor industry sectors, and more specifically, the oil sector regarding garments and textiles. My role is in business development consultancy at DuPont, which means I connects clients with the distributors that best suit their needs. Part of this job requires staying constantly informed about technologies and advancements in Nomex, which is used in the manufacture of fire-retardant apparel.
You might hear about fire-retardant materials and think about firefighters or race car drivers. And you’d be right, but there’s so much more to it than that! Nomex isn’t only useful for protective clothing. From a chef with oven gloves, to a laminate for a circuit board, to transforming into a lightweight honeycomb insulation for aircraft, there’s so many uses for flame-retardant materials. You can even find it in mass-transit vehicles. It was invented at the same world-famous DuPont laboratory in Wilmington, Delaware that also spawned nylon and Kevlar by Dr. Willfred Sweeny in 1967. While researching polymers, he developed one with with particularly good thermal properties that could be woven into a very tough fiber. It is similar to Kevlar in molecular makeup, but it cannot align during filament formation and so has poorer strength. It’s so light it can be worn under clothes or found inside aerospace applications like helicopter blades or the airbags on the Mars Rover.
The key to Nomex is not it’s complete invulnerability to fire (everything is flammable in high enough temperatures) but rather in how quickly the flames will extinguish when the flame source is removed. Most objects that catch fire will continue to burn once the source of the heat is removed, but Nomex extinguishes within seconds, which can save the lives of military personnel, firefighters, industrial workers, and race drivers the world over. The molecular structure that is so effective at stopping heat from passing through also stops electricity from flowing through it as well. That means Nomex is an extremely poor conductor, and actually ends up being a near perfect insulator as well. It even has resistance to radiation. All these qualities mean that it is a technology that will always be relevant!