October 03, 2003
U.S. Armor's Position On Use Of Zylon In Ballistic Vests
First, we want to reassure U.S. Armor Corporation's customers that they have nothing to be concerned about regarding the current problems with Zylon vests because we have never sold a single vest containing any amount of Zylon. So far, Second Chance is the only company that has made a recall, product modification or replacement offer because of vest failure, although they certainly may not be the last to do so.
While it was an expensive decision not to make a Zylon vest, as we lost many, many sales because of it, we knew that not only was it the right thing to do, it was clearly the only thing to do. Toyobo, manufacturers of the Zylon fiber, notified us some time ago, along with all of the other vest manufacturers, that there was a serious "loss of strength" problem over a relatively short amount of time with Zylon that had been exposed to heat (104 degrees) and (80%) humidity. We believe that environment is relatively easy to achieve underneath an Officer's uniform shirt and next to his skin in almost any climate.
We studied Toyobo's test results along with other available data that included testing generated both in our own facility and by NIJ-Certified independent labs and determined that using Zylon in body armor could easily lead to some potentially serious Officer Safety issues. Indeed, even Toyobo themselves recommended against using their product in body armor applications. At that point, our path was clear and there was no other decision to be made; we were not going to take the safety risks that appeared to be inherent with the use of Zylon. While our logic was not shared by the other major armor manufacturers, two ballistic material weavers indicated their concern by requiring Zylon Liability Waivers from armor companies, something never done before.
Some manufacturers claim the problem is with Zylon itself, no matter how it is used in vests, which would mean that all manufacturers who use Zylon will eventually have a vest failure problem surface, while others claim that it is just one particular type of Zylon application (used only by Second Chance) that creates the failure problems in body armor. At this point, we don't know the actual answer. What we do know is that so far, only Second Chance has had publicized failures with Zylon, although they are not the only manufacturer using Zylon. Does that mean that vests using Zylon that are made by other manufacturers will or will not have failure problems as well? At this point, it doesn't mean that either statement is true or false; only time and further independent laboratory testing following a strict, realistic re-test protocol that includes vests that have been used in daily police duty applications over a period of time will determine the answers to these questions.
Another point to keep in mind is that Second Chance has a considerably larger number of vests currently in use by law enforcement than any other manufacturer; statistically, it would make sense that Second Chance would have the first vest failures with Zylon, before vests from any of the other manufacturers. Over 53% of all vests sold through the federal Ballistic Vest Partnership Program using matching government grant money were from Second Chance. The point is, the jury is still out on whether or not any or all of the other manufacturers who used and continue to use Zylon will have a failure or not. As I said, only time and testing will tell.
A key point to remember is that Zylon vests from Second Chance have always tested well right out of the box, never having been used. The same vests, however, have failed the exact same test when the vests had been worn in regular duty use, although not necessarily for that long a period of time; the Forest Hills, PA Officer got his vest in January of this year and it failed when he was shot at the end of June. The process of the vests degrading is called "THERMAL CYCLE DEGRADATION". This is the process that occurs when the vest is worn for a duty shift and exposed to the ammonia, salts, other chemicals and water contained in the wearer's perspiration, and then taken off and allowed to dry; the process is then repeated each work day, continuing to advance the degradation process. A good example is if you would put a piece of paper on a table and then pour water on it. When you go back to it the next day after it dries it will still be intact but it will be wrinkled, more brittle and not in the same state of usability as it originally was. It remains to be seen how this phenomenon will affect the Zylon vests made and marketed by the other manufacturers.
What we do know is that Toyobo, the people who make Zylon, have made public substantial research data that clearly shows a rapid decline in the strength of Zylon in a relatively short amount of time when exposed to conditions that are replicated almost daily in police work. We believed that this information alone was sufficient enough reason to not use Zylon in body armor; all of the rest of the Zylon failure information now coming to light only underscores the validity of the original Toyobo information that all of the manufacturers were given beginning back in July of 2001, and the value of caution. "New" is not always better or safer.
We have assembled a booklet of the Toyobo test documents, along with other pertinent data and a listing of Internet web sites with additional information on the Zylon failure issue. If law enforcement personnel will provide us with a written or e-mailed request containing the mailing address for their agency, we will be happy to send one to them.
And, as always, we value and respect our customers' trust and thank them for their support in using the complete line of U.S. Armor Corporation's protective products; products that consistently deliver Performance, Dependability, Comfort, Innovation, Quality and Value in an environment of Integrity from people who care.
Georg L. Olsen
General Manager US Armor
11843 E. Smith Ave.
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670