KEVLAR* ARAMID,
A NEW FIBRE REINFORCEMENT
FOR CONVEYOR BELTING
 
B. Pulvermacher
Du Pont de Nemours International SA, Geneva, Switzerland

ABSTRACT

The high tenacity and modulus, and the low elongation and creep of "Kevlar" high strength aramid fibres paired with non-corrosion and excellent thermal and chemical resistance provide the rubber industry with a new reinforcement for high performance conveyor belting.

The development of aramid fibres is reviewed. Pertinent properties and characteristics of "Kevlar" are then compared with those of traditional reinforcing materials. European trade experience and advantages of aramid reinforced belting over steel cable and conventional textile fibre reinforced belting are summarised.

{* Du Pont's registered trademark}

INTRODUCTION

The development of the fibre reinforcement in belting has progressed from cotton to rayon and then to the organic fibres Polyester and polyamide and to steel cords and cables. The organic fibres contribute high rot-resistance together with higher achievable strength ratings to belting. The use of steel cords and cables extends the tensile strength range of the belting even further, contributing to greater belt length and lift, lower elongation-in-use and minimum growth. Negatives of steel cord reinforced belting are corrosion propensity, risk of longitudinal slitting and high weight.

In what follows we present information on a new fibre reinforcement for conveyor belting which combines the high tenacity and modulus, and the low elongation and creep properties associated normally with steel cords with the low density, non-corrosion and wear characteristics of organic fibres.

The presentation is structured as follows: First we review the development of this class of fibres, the aromatic polyamides, today referred to generically as aramids. This material is included to provide a better understanding of the unique properties of these fibres.

In the second part of this presentation, properties, characteristics and conversion techniques associated with aramid as reinforcement in conveyor belting are compared with those of conventional reinforcing materials. Finally, the advantages of aramid reinforced betting over steel and textile reinforced belting as well as European trade experiences are reviewed.

DEVELOPMENT AND MOLECULAR STRUCTURE OF ARAMID FIBRES

The development of high tenacity aramid fibres dates back to the mid 60's. The state of the art at that time was exemplified by established polymers such as nylon and polyester. It was generally recognised that in order to achieve maximum tenacity and modulus, the polymer molecules must exist in extended chain formation and have nearly perfect crystalline packing. With flexible chain polymers such as nylon or polyester, this is accomplished by drawing the fibre after spinning. Since this requires chain disentanglement and orientation in the solid phase, achievable levels of tenacity and modulus are far from the theoretical possible values.

A novel approach providing almost perfect Polymer chain extension, was discovered by Du Pont in 1965 in studies with poly-p-benzamide. It was shown that this polymer can form liquid crystalline solutions (1-3).

Low molecular weight compounds capable of forming liquid crystalline phases have been known for years. In the liquid crystalline state, these compounds have the structure of solids. They exhibit birefringence and have molecular order, but at the same time these materials have the flow characteristics of fluids. This liquid crystalline behaviour has been extended to many high molecular weight polyamides as shown in Table 1. The common feature of all these polymers is a structure which is inherently rigid and capable of high crystalline order. The key structure requirement is the para-orientation, forming a rod- like molecular structure.

Consider what happens when rod-like polymer molecules as opposed to flexible chain molecules are dissolved (Fig. 1). As the concentration increases, the rods begin to associate in parallel alignment. Randomly oriented domains of internally highly oriented polymer chains then develop. With flexible chain polymers, on the other hand, a random coil configuration is obtained in solution. An increase in polymer concentration cannot force a higher degree of order.

The unique aspect of liquid crystalline polymer solutions that can provide a new dimension in fibre processing, is their behaviour under shear. The random domains become fully oriented in the direction of shear. This happens as these solutions enter a spinneret and emerge with almost perfect molecular orientation (Fig. 2). The supra-molecular structure is almost entirely preserved in the as-spun filament structure due to very slow relaxation of the shear-induced orientation. This process is a novel, low energy way of achieving very high orientation of polymer molecules.

Through optimisation of the critical polymer and solvent parameters entirely anisotropic solutions were obtained which, in turn, led to very strong fibres. High strength "Kevlar" fibres, with the selected substrate of poly-p-phenylene terephthalamide, were commercialised by Du Pont in 1972 through this technology.

PROPERTIES OF ARAMID FIBRES

After this background on the development and the molecular structure of aramids, let us review and compare their unique combination of properties with those of the conventional reinforcements used in conveyor belting. In our discussion we will concentrate on the aramid fibre specifically designed for the rubber industry and called "Kevlar". Two other high tenacity aramid fibres based on poly-p-phenylene terephthalamide have been developed by Du Pont: "Kevlar" 29 is used in speciality products such as ropes, cab1es ,coated fabrics, ballistics and protective clothing. "Kevlar" 49 is the high modulus form of this aramid. It is finding increased use in aerospace and marine applications in fibre reinforced composites to replace metal or fibreglass reinforced structures at lower weight.

MECHANICAL PROPERTIES

Typical mechanical properties of the aramid fibre used in belting are shown in Table 2 and are compared to other organic fibres and steel wire. The aramid fibre has the highest strength to weight ratio, i.e. 2 to 3 times higher than other organic fibres and 5 times higher than steel. The elongation to break is 4%. The creep rates for "Kevlar" are low relative to nylon and polyester and only slightly higher than those of steel (Fig. 3). Extrapolation of stress rupture tests (Life time under dead weight load) demonstrates that yarns and cables of "Kevlar" will support a load of half their breaking strength for long periods of time. Although an organic fibre, its high strength and modulus, its low elongation and creep position the aramid fibre alongside steel.

While the fibre has very high tensile properties, its compressiona1 strength is moderate (about 18% of the tensile strength). However, selection of appropriate yarn, cord and fabric geometry for the amount of compression to be encountered in actual use provides the needed fatigue resistance.

THERMAL PROPERTIES

Fig.4 gives the effect of elevated temperature ageing on the tensile strength of "Kevlar". The fibre also performs well at low temperatures and maintains its properties to well below -40 degrees C.

"Kevlar" is thus essentially unaffected by long term exposure to temperatures in the -40 degrees C to +130 degrees C range, covering the working temperature and ambient temperature range experienced in most belting applications.

CHEMICAL RESISTANCE

The basic chemical structure of the fibre, which is responsible for its good thermal stability, also provides very good resistance to a wide range of chemicals, common solvents, oils and most ingredients used in rubber compounds. Generally it requires long exposure to relatively concentrated acids and bases to affect the tensile strength significantly (Table 3).

FATIGUE RESISTANCE

The tension-tension fatigue performance of this aramid is compared in Fig. 5 with that of nylon and steel wire. Both "Kevlar" and nylon have excellent fatigue resistance, superior to that of steel.

In fibre fatigue tests which involve compressive fatigue, the intrinsic flex resistance of aramid fibres appears to be less than that of nylon and polyester. However, proper choice of twist in yarn and in plied cord structure as well as changes in reinforcement design can supply fully acceptable flex resistance.

CONVERSION OF ARAMID YARN INTO CONVEYOR BELT FABRICS

Before "Kevlar" aramid yarn is calendered into rubber or PVC to form the conveyor belt carcass, the yarn must be twisted for optimum balance of strength and fatigue resistance, woven into a fabric and treated to develop adhesion to rubber. Processing can be done on conventional textile equipment. Special considerations, however, are advisable. Recommendations on optimum twisting, weaving and dipping have been worked out and are available through our technical library.

CARCASS CONSTRUCTIONS FOR CONVEYOR BELTS REINFORCED WITH "KEVLAR"

Three different carcass types have been successfully developed for high strength belting reinforced with "Kevlar": cord, straight-warp and solid woven constructions. Conventional woven fabric constructions have found their place in lower strength, speciality belting. A fifth construction, based on ready-for-rubber cables (ropes) of "Kevlar" to replace steel cables is under evaluation for ultra high tension belting. Choice of the carcass type depends on the end-use requirements such as strength, elongation-in-use, type of cover and use of metal fasteners.

Full data is available from the individual converters and conveyor belt manufacturers. Some of the major results may be summarised as follows :

Cord construction: The aramid cord as the strength member of the warp lies straight within the construction, resulting in high strength efficiency combined with low elongation in use (< 0.5%). Breaking strength of up to 2000 N/mm is achievable with a single warp. As weak filling yarns are used, the conveyor belts require breakers for transversal impact resistance in most applications.

This carcass type is used in rubberised belting. Joining of the belts is genera1ly done using a V-butt splice. For low strength belting an overlap splice is sometimes used. Mechanical fasteners have been used only for emergency repairs.

Straight-warp construction: High strength efficiency with low elongation in use (< 0.5%) are also characteristic of this construction. Breaking strength of up to 3150 N/mm is achievable with a double warp. Transversal impact resistance is provided through the straight warp construction. Use of breakers is thus not required, except for the splicing section. Joining of the belt is done as for the cord construction.

Solid woven construction: Within the monoply solid woven carcass, the reinforcing fibre goes through crimp. This results in higher elongation in use (- 1.0%). Due to the compact monoply structure, belts with up to 4000 N/mm breaking strength are possible. The monoply structure provides high impact absorption and good resistance to tearing and to spreading of tear. Solid woven belts can thus be joined by metal fasteners and by standard splicing techniques. The cover is selected according to the conditions of use and may be PVC or rubber (PVG).

Ready-for-rubber cables of "Kevlar": Ready-for-rubber cables of "Kevlar" are dipped structures and are currently being evaluated as conveyor belt reinforcement in ultra high tension betting of up to 5400 N/mm breaking strength. Ready-for-rubber cables range in size from 2 to 14 mm and in strength from 4 kN to 140 kN. High strength efficiency combined with low elongation in use (< 0.5%), as well as built-in adhesion to rubber, allow a direct replacement of steel cables within the steel belt manufacturing process.

ADVANTAGES OF "KEVLAR" OVER STEEL REINFORCEMENT

As a result of the aramid's unique combination of tensile and material properties and its processability on conventional textile equipment, "Kevlar" is increasingly used as reinforcement in conveyor belting. Let us describe now the fibre's main advantages in belting. We will start with a comparison to steel reinforcement.

ADVANTAGES OF "KEVLAR" ARAMID OVER CONVENTIONAL TEXTILE REINFORCEMENT 

TRADE EXPERIENCE

Six European conveyor belt manufacturers have developed products reinforced with "Kevlar". Belts have successfully passed non-flammability and durability tests. More than 40,000 meters of belts with a carcass of "Kevlar" aramid are now in operation. Table 5 gives a summary of the installations by year, by length and by strength range. The table indicates that between 1978 and 1981 the total length installed was in the range of 6000 to 8000 m per year. This was the time when the leading mines in Europe extensively tested the new belts to see if the technical advantages, as described above translated into reduced cost at the mining level. Since 1982 we are witnessing a substantial increase in installations.

The belt strength range has increased with experience gained and is now covering the 1250 to 4000 N/mm range, previously mainly served by steel reinforced belts.

Some of the belts have now been operating for up to seven years with excellent reliability. To round-off this picture the experiences of three conveyor belt manufacturers using "Kevlar" aramid reinforcement will be presented in a separate paper.

CONCLUSION

"Kevlar" high strength aramid fibres occupy a unique position in the textile fibre spectrum. They possess high tenacity and modulus, thermal stability and low elongation and creep normally associated with inorganic fibres while retaining the low density, non-corrosion and processability of organic fibres. Therefore, conveyor belt manufacturers can now produce belts which meet the increasingly severe requirements of the trade, such as improved safety, reliability and increased productivity through reduced maintenance and repairs.

REFERENCES 

  1. J.A. Fitzgerald, Extended Chain Aromatic Polyamides. Paper presented at the A.C.S. 16th State-of-the Art Symposium on Polymers in the Service of Man, June 9 - 11, 1980.

  2. E.E. Magat, presented Fibres from Extended Chain Aromatic Polyamides. Paper presented at the Royal Chemical Society, 18 May 1978.

  3. S.L. Kwolek, P.W. Morgan, J.R. Schaefgen, and L.W. Gulrich, Macromolecules, 10, 1930 - 1936 (1977)

  4. H. Spinke, Glueckauf, 118, 1131 - 1134 (1982).

FIGURE 1

FIGURE 2

FIGURE 3: COMPARATIVE STRESS-CREEP OF INDUSTRIAL FIBRES
The effect of temperature on the tensile strength of KEVLAR

FIGURE 4

FIGURE 5: COMPARATIVE TENSION-TENSION FATIGUE PERFORMANCE

TABLE 1
Properties of industrial fibres
 
  KEVLAR KEVLAR 49 Nylon Polyester Steel
wire
(stranded)
Tenacity(dN/tex) 19.0 19.0 8.6 8.2 3.0-3.5
Tenacity (N/mm²) 2760 2760
990
1150
2400-2800
Modulus (dN/tex)
400
830
49
97
180-250
Modulus (KN/mm²)
59
120
5.5
13.8
150-200
Elongation at break(%)
4
2.5
17
14.0
2
Density (g/cc)
1.44
1.45
1.14
1.38
7.85
 
TABLE 2: Chemical resistance
 
Environment
(100hr* exposure at 21°C)
Tensile Strength
loss%
ACID  
Formic(90%)
10
Hydrochloric(37%)
90
Hydroflouric(10%)
12
Nitric(70%)
82
Sulphuric(70%)
86
BASES  
Ammonium Hydroxide 24hr
0
Potassium Hydroxide 24hr
25
Sodium Hydroxide 24hr
10
Other Chemicals  
Brake Fluid (312hr)
2
Greases (moS2 and Lithium base)
0
Jet Fluid (JP-4)(300hr)
0
Ozone (1000hr)
0
Tap Water
0
Boiling Water
0
Superheated Water 156°C(313°F)80hr
16

*Except where noted

TABLE 3: CHEMICAL RESISTANCE OF "KEVLAR"
 
REINFORCEMENT STEEL CORD "KEVLAR" STRAIGHT WARP
RUBBER
CR
CR
TOTAL THICKNESS
22 MM
13 MM
THICKNESS OF COVERS
TOP AND BOTTOM
6+6 MM
5+3 MM
WEIGHT
38 KG/M²
22 KG/M²
 
TABLE 4: T - 2000 CONVEYOR BELT
 
YEAR
TOTAL LENGTH
STRENGTH RANGE (N/MM)
1975
600
630 - 1000
1976
700
1250 - 2000
1977
2500
400 - 2500
1978
7300
1000 - 4000
1979
5600
1000 - 3150
1980
8500
1250 - 2000
1981
6700
1250 - 4000
1982
12000
1250 - 1600
1983
>15000
(EXPECTED)
1250 - 4000
 
TABLE 5: CONVEYOR BELTS REINFORCED WITH "KEVLAR" ARAMID INSTALLATIONS