UHMWPE or sometimes shortened to UHMW, also known as high-modulus polyethylene (HMPE) or high
-performance polyethylene (HPPE), is a subset of the thermoplastic polyethylene. It has extremely
long chain, with molecular weight numbering in the millions, usually between 2 and 6 million. The longer chain serves to transfer load more effectively to the polymer backbone by strengthening intermolecular interactions. This results in a very tough material, with the highest impact strength of any thermoplastic presently made. It is highly resistant to corrosive chemicals, with exception of oxidizing acids. It has extremely low moisture absorption, has a very low coefficient of friction, is self-lubricating, and is highly resistant to abrasion (15 times more resistant to abrasion than carbon steel). Its coefficient of friction is significantly lower than that of nylon and acetal, and is comparable to that of Teflon, but UHMWPE has better abrasion resistance than Teflon. It is odorless, tasteless, and nontoxic.
Polymerisation of UHMWPE was commercialised in the 1950s by Ruhrchemie AG, which changed names over the years; today UHMWPE powder materials are produced by Ticona, Braskem, and Mitsui. UHMWPE is available commercially either as consolidated forms, such as sheets or rods, and as fibers. UHMWPE powder may also be directly molded into the final shape of a product. Because of its resistance to wear and impact, UHMWPE continues to find increasing industrial applications, including the automotive and bottling sectors, for example. Since the 1960s, UHMWPE has also been the material of choice for total joint arthroplasty in orthopedic and spine implants.
UHMWPE fibers, commercialised in the late 1970s by the Dutch chemicals company DSM, are widely used in ballistic protection, defense applications, and increasingly in medical devices as well.
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