Cuben Fiber, Dyneema, and the Ultralight Cottage Industry (Short Film & Commentary)
Jan 11, 2016 at 6:28 pm #3375224
Roger, that’s just quantifiable, reproducible science, It’s not like Richard had a golf club or baseball bat………..or goats for that matter……..
I hear you, I am aware of some of the work with inflatables and sonic welding that went no where for some of the reasons you mention.Jan 11, 2016 at 6:59 pm #3375226
It’s not the UHMWPE part that’s expensive in highly aligned UHMWPE, it’s the highly aligned part.Jan 11, 2016 at 10:33 pm #3375271Dan @ Durston GearBPL Member
@dandydanLocale: Canadian Rockies
I’ve used a lot of cuben over the past 5 years (tarps, tents, packs, rain gear etc.) but I have very little right now.
The only application I really like it is tarps and tent fly’s (not floors!). Here I don’t like how bulky it packs, nor the translucence, but I really like the weight, how well it pitches and that it doesn’t absorb water. If cuben lasted a long, long time I’d probably pay the extra for it, like I do for titanium and 800+ FP down, but my experience is the lifespan is at best similar to silnylon and usually shorter.
Cuben is extremely strong, but that’s kind of the wrong way to evaluate it because tear strength isn’t the weakest aspect of cuben, so it’s not where the problems arise. More saliently, cuben’s not that great at abrasion, preventing stitch holes from enlarging and at sustaining twisting forces. If cuben takes a lot of torsion (e.g. from rolling up a tent tightly) then eventually the layers will start to come apart as the mylar bubbles. Once cuben starts to go the end isn’t far off and there’s not much you can do. With proper care a cuben shelter can last a long time, but my experience is that silnylon will last longer. Once cuben starts to go the end isn’t that far off.
Anyways, I like the stuff and if I was rich I’d use it, but as it is I’ve sold most of my cuben because I can’t stomach replacing a cuben mid that wore out. I use a silnylon mid (LG Khufu) now instead of a cuben DuoMid. I miss the weight savings but it’s also nice how the silnylon mid packs up to 2/3rds the size.Jan 11, 2016 at 11:02 pm #3375273
Chemically, UHMW is UHMW, by nature it has very long carbon chains which is where it’s strength is derived. As a fiber, it is produced in much the same way as most petrochemical fibers, ie. extrusion through a spinerette. In the case of Dyneema I believe the process is called gel spinning(I don’t have it in front of me). It is the nature(long carbon chains) and process(chemically) that orients these long strands during spinning(extrusion), which increases the inherent strength of UHMW in a Dyneema fiber. The raw stock is still cheaper than nylon, so from a price point of view we are talking about processing costs. These should come down over time, not increase. We are talking like this stuff is just being introduced as something new, its been around since the early ’90s. While the specific use of Dyneema in Cuben has not been around as long, those processing costs should have also come down over time with improvements, along with improvements in the product. I’ve seen the quality increase with Cuben over time, but not any of the other associated benefits.
Roger mentioned PET, in its fiber form PET is known as Dacron. This may be a better comparison for crunching numbers for raw verses processed fiber, especially given the substitution of Dyneema and Spectra in places where Dacron was/is used. So fiber to fiber, Dyneema/Spectra is typically 3xs the cost of Dacron(by strength) and 8xs the cost by volume. And as a raw stock, UHMW is typically 3xs the cost of PET, and the same or less than nylon. So the chemical process(additional to the spinning, for the alignment) involved in spinning raw UHMW into Dyneema is 8xs more expensive by volume. But because of the strength of Dyneema/Spectra, practical application(because of its strength to weight) keeps the costs in line with other fibers, because it requires a smaller quantity of Dyneema to do the same job as heavier threads. So yes 6 pounds of Dyneema fiber costs 8xs as much as 6 pounds of Dacron fiber, but you only need 2 pounds of the Dyneema fibers to do the same job that requires 6 pounds of Dacron. So yes, if you just look at the production of a Dyneema Fiber verses something else, you can say it is exponentially more expensive. But the way the economics play out with real world applications, it is not the same.
You can see this same thing play out in something like a Dyneema winch rope verses a steel winch cable. Pound for pound, or Volumetrically the Dyneema is exponentially more expensive to produce. Yet my Dyneema winch line on the front of my Land Rover, did not cost exponentially more than a steel cable. Depending on a few variables(diameter, length, rating), Dyneema winch line is only 1.5xs the cost of good steel cable. It also floats on water, and has had its price come down on a huge scale over the last decade.Jan 12, 2016 at 9:08 am #3375329
Yes, Josh, it’s a gel-spinning technique, which requires the polymers to be dissolved in a solvent. The process is way more complicated than melt spinning. If you look at a plot of strength vs. alignment, you will notice that the strength increases exponentially (in the alignment direction) as the polymer molecules become more aligned. It becomes increasingly difficult to attain incremental alignment the further you get along that curve. The gel-spinning processes for these fibers is really a remarkable achievement.
As I mentioned in one of the earlier posts, I am hopeful that DSM will be successful in driving interest in Dyneema for as many applications as possible resulting in eventual commoditization of these highly aligned fibers.Jan 12, 2016 at 9:11 am #3375332Ron Bell / MLDBPL Member
I first saw this article this weekend after it was up a little while and then Ryan contacted me this weekend to add some comments that I have sent him. I think it will be added this week, perhaps with some other companies comments too.
We do offer most of our products in both SilNylon and Cuben. We’re happy to offer the choice to fit different budgets and goals. We know that cuben is costly, in raw material cost and labor to build the gear properly, but we also know from thousands of customers that our cuben products perform extremely well.
(A most recent example of that performance was a Cuben DuoMids use on the PCT’s first ever Winter Thru-Hike – and they used the same cuben DuoMid for their Himalaya trek too! I’ll add that at one point the snow load on the Mid was so heavy the winter worthy strong trek pole snapped but the Mid was undamaged. We’ve heard that same report before- Strong pole snapped- Cuben Mid OK. Cuben is Really Really strong! I believe that the lighter sub 1.3oz/sq/yd coated SilNylons/Poly/Etc. simply are not strong enough for that type wind or snow load and so are not substitutes for the .7oz Cuben is tough conditions.)
Cuben gear may cost more upfront vs a regular woven fabric, but when I buy gear or any product, I consider the cost of use over time. For a shelter it makes sense to use the cost per night of use to see the cost/value equation. A $400 tent for 200 nights = $2 per night…half a cup of Starbucks. Is that expensive? $1 would be better! Is $4 per night totally crazy? That’s a personal decision – but at least it’s all in perspective. The $1 – $2 per night is SilNylon and $2 -$4 per night is Cuben.
The majority of hikers use their gear about 10-20 nights per year. They will see a very long service life of many years in a Cuben or Silnylon shelter. A thru-hiker should get 1- 2 thru hikes and most of our thru-hike customers report this is the case. Of course everyone is different in how they treat their gear and the locations/conditions they deploy that gear..YMMV.
Tips to extend the life of any shelter:
1: Do not over stuff or compress it.
2: Store it loose, dry and clean.
3: Clean and lube zippers. McNett ZipCare recommended.
4: Do not leave it pitched in the sun unless necessary.
5: Fix accident damage asap – fix it properly and don’t let it grow.
6: Cuben and Silnylon can be stuffed, folded or rolled. Cuben can be packed a bit smaller (very very close to the volume of SilNylon) if folded or rolled and this can add a bit to the service life vs stuffing, especially vs over stuffing. KEY is to not over-stuff or over-compress.
7: Protect from excessive heat. Cars un-shaded, direct hot desert sun, fires, etc.
#1,3,5 and 7 can be a bit tougher for a thru-hikers due to the everyday no breaks not at home nature of the trip and so a slightly shorter service life for any thru-hike gear is the tradeoff. In a Cuben shelter maybe a $1 per day increase.Jan 12, 2016 at 9:31 am #3375336Jerry AdamsBPL Member
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
If you fold your Cuben tent, can you then place it in pack, next to your back, where it will get compressed?
If you lube zipper, doesn’t it then collect dirt and grit? Better to just clean it? What do you lube it with?
Lightweight silnylon that’s maybe 0.7 oz/yd2 or even 1.0 is close to same weight as Cuben. Seems like it’s strong enough. Maybe it stretches more?Jan 12, 2016 at 11:45 am #3375374
Gator, the “commoditization” has already been done, and we have already seen the price come way down on most products made with these fibers, ie. my winch line example. This stuff is being used and produced in massive quantities, which has helped drive the price down, and production up, along with the Chinese entering the UHMW fiber market. Two blocks from where I am sitting the local utility company has multi hundred foot reels of 1/2″+ that are being used to pull electrical cable. After X number of pulls that stuff gets sold off to an already flooded second hand market, further driving the price down. Will I lift 12,000# on a second hand piece of rope? Nope, but I’ll drag 6000# with it all day long(at 1/4 the cost of steel). What I’m getting at is there is little justification for some of the costs we see associated with Cuben fiber, at a minimum it is not because of the cost of Dyneema. Being that DSM(Dyneema’s manufacture) now owns the company that makes Cuben fiber, the cost for those fibers that go into Cuben, have been reduced.
Ron, I know that tent, I put a stove boot in it.
What we need to see is a real “State of the Market Report” on Cuben, not a prop piece.
Was Cubic tech sold because it was a good financial endeavor that was turning a profit? Or was it because it was suffering, and selling off was an attempt to save it? Either way this affects consumer and manufacturing costs and availability. The first being of great concern to the people that come here for information.
Is there a distribution network? Or is it some sort of free for all? Unofficial? Because currently it would seem that if you were already buying from CubicTech, that continued for some and not for others. And with availability tightening, and prices increasing, what do the current defacto distributors get for handling all the Cuben they sell? Simply getting it at top tier(the old 9m minimum price), and retailing it is not what I’m talking about. As distributors doing the extra work that DSM refuses to do, they should be being compensated for their role in the supply chain, ie. even better prices, stable supply, and referral on the part of DSM. If DSM is really trying to get this stuff out there, they would not ignore emails from prospective(and former) manufactures. At a minimum their response would be to refer such inquiries to the current defacto “distributors” of their product. Ie. ZPacks, or Ripstop By the Roll, or one of the others that have done the heavy lifting for years like Quest Outfitters(Still out of stock).Jan 12, 2016 at 3:24 pm #3375432
I don’t have my hand on the pulse of the Spectra/Dyneema markets, but from what I see personally, they don’t seem like commodities at all. They are mostly popular in various forms in small markets like high-end sporting applications and with DIY gurus. The only area that I see these approaching mainstream is in fishing line.
Commoditization essentially means moving away from proprietary and monopolistic type of technologies and markets to widely available ones. Who else makes this stuff besides Honeywell and DSM?
I think it will come and the price of these materials will likely drop, but I don’t know if that will translate to laminates, such as what we call cuben fiber. As I said, I’m hopeful.Jan 12, 2016 at 3:40 pm #3375442
By the way, I completely agree with the rest. I too would like to see a market report, and I think DSM is not behaving very well. It’s how other big chemical and polymer suppliers have treated me, but in those cases I kinda understood how the supply chain worked.Jan 12, 2016 at 4:00 pm #3375448Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Sounds a bit like the Chinese stock market – they are all off with the fairies.
There is only one thing to do when this starts happening: you take your money elsewhere and let the spin merchants spiral down the vortex they have created.
CheersJan 12, 2016 at 5:23 pm #3375461
Roger, that’s easy for someone like you or me to say. You have no vested interested, and I have already moved on, after being drug through one last time. But for those that want it, and those that are vested in it, I’m sure things look quite different.
I am currently looking at some carbon fiber availability issues, we just went through a Sil-Nylon shortage, change-up and price increase(Westmark), and I know of some titanium shortages as well. So this all really intrigues me. The ti shortage is interesting, it involved a company buying a titanium mill, and then jacking the price up………….That one will actually work out to the benefit of consumers and manufactures though, as we did just like you suggested.
On a side note, if you have a need for a CAM system, check out Fusion 360. It is a cloud based CAD/CAM system from Autodesk, the makers of AutoCad(Did I do that right?). I have not run it alot, but the impression so far is that it moves material very efficiently(roughing), drives good 3D surface paths, and you can’t beat the price(Because it’s a Cloud service). I can’t stand to draw in it, so I just import Iges. files from my preferred CAD system(it likes solids, not geometry). There are lots of YouTube videos on it. And for those doing additive manufacturing, it will drive a 3D printer as well. Tesla Motors uses Fusion 360 in it’s machine shops………….(This is true, but is a sort of inside joke that just does not come across as well on the internet unfortunately)Jan 12, 2016 at 6:18 pm #3375473Dave @ OwareBPL Member
@bivysack-comLocale: East Washington
Tried to contact the Cubic Tech reps today. One of their emails bounced back, will see if the other rep responds.Jan 12, 2016 at 8:12 pm #3375495Roger CaffinBPL Member
@rcaffinLocale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
But for those that want it, and those that are vested in it, I’m sure things look quite different.
That could be the ‘sunk cost’ myth. Oh well.
Westmark silnylon – just about every tent mfr I know sources their silnylon from an Asian coating mill these days. And they get a far superior product in terms of HH compared to Westmark. OK – I have not tested the current Westmark product in the last year or two.
Fusion 360 – yeah various people keep bombarding me with all sorts of free Cloud-based offers. Fusion 360, MEC-CAD, Rhino, whatever. Some of the ads are quite funny, but not quite in the way the vendor was hoping.Their ‘virtues’ are ‘deficiencies’ in my eyes.
You see, I do a bit of my design work and programming on the same machine that drives the CNC while it is working – easily possible as driving the CNC takes about 5% of the CPU. BUT – this CPU is not and never will be on the internet. Keyboard interrupts don’t worry the CNC SW at all, but interacting with the internet is a good way of crashing the machine. Fusion 360 can operate off the net for a short while, but then it needs another suck of the dummy.
So – I mostly design with AutoSketch – 2D SW. It represents what is in my head. My CNC programming is done by me, in g-code, direct. I don’t know how many times more efficient my code is compared to the output of a CAM system: at least an order of magnitude for the stuff I design. And my programs are at least an order of magnitude smaller, and can be tweaked in seconds.
Ah well, it’s all good fun.
cheersJan 12, 2016 at 8:33 pm #3375499
Dave, That’s how it all started for me many weeks ago…………………Jan 12, 2016 at 8:34 pm #3375500AnonymousInactive
As far as the cost and price differences between UHMWPE fiber and Cuben, isn’t part of it because the latter has to have the UHMWPE fibers treated with a plasma treatment so that it better adheres to the mylar films?
What i’ve never understood is why don’t these companies just use UHMWPE film, instead of mylar, so that a low heat, calendering type process could be worked out. While UHMWPE material has fairly low surface energy (which is why they plasma treat it to make Cuben Fiber), plastics will readily heat bond with the same plastic material.
It could decrease cost and improve overall durability and strength of the material, but they would have to add UV additives to the film to increase it’s resistance to same. (it”s more susceptible to UV degradation than even nylon).
I doubt i will ever buy any more Cuben fiber again, but if i did, it would be the lightest Cuben, that i would combine with the lightest silnylon. I think a largish tarp made out of a combo of this would be pretty cool, i would fold over the edges of both materials together at least a couple of times, with the nylon being on the outside before sewing. The respective strengths and weaknesses of each material would compliment and balance out each other well (in some ways, they are very much Yin and Yang), and would still weigh a bit less than good quality traditional silnylon. But, no stretch, very high waterproofness, less condensation because of slight air gap between the two materials (silicone adhesive or caulk dots on the silnylon would help with that), higher outside abrasion resistance (if the nylon is on the outside or otherwise covering the cuben), very high strength, etc.
But that will have to wait until i win the lottery. I’m exaggerating a bit. It would cost 39 dollars a yard if materials are not bought wholesale.Jan 12, 2016 at 9:00 pm #3375508
Roger, AutoSketch is good stuff, that is taking me back a little ways. I don’t think there is anything that draws as straight forward as AutoSketch or older versions of AutoCad. Simple, accurate, and powerful. I currently code all of my lathe work line by line, and quite a bit of my milling, if you know your subroutines it’s exactly like you said, far more efficient. If it’s production its worth the time investment. I still prefer to do all my thread milling line by line/copy paste as well. If you are not thread milling, that’s something you need to look at too, I build threaded lathe parts on the mill, and I have a very nice CNC lathe, but I can do it faster on the mill. That’s part of the reason I mentioned the roughing cycle and 3D milling of Fusion, for complex mold cavities and just clearing lots of material it really excels. The “Adaptive Clearing” is one of the most efficient generations of code for material engagement I have seen for roughing, truly an improvement. The rest is par for the course. I’ve written enough Z step down 3D milling programs for complex shapes over the years to appreciate CAM for what it can do for you there.
Did I mention that Tesla uses it in their machine shops?………..I think you very much got part of the joke. It’s nothing against Tesla, I’m a fan.Jan 12, 2016 at 9:10 pm #3375512
Justin, I like it. Awhile back we were were talking about something very similar, along those very lines. Cuben ridge and perimeter/exoskeleton, with 7D Sil panels for the bulk of the coverage. A few breaks in the perimeter/exo structure to allow for the benefit of the Sil stretch where you want it………….
After reading through your idea, I think a sort of hybrid of the two ideas could be pretty cool. Make the Sil cover removable from the skeleton, or attached at points like you mentioned. Very cool!
Edit: I have no doubt that the plasma treatment is very much a part of the cost of Cuben. But like I touched on before, this is again not an issue of raw materials, but rather a process cost. These are the kind of things where over time you see improvements made to the process, and the product, and ultimately a price reduction, at least on the part of the process. If you look at how the threads were laid out in early Cuben compared to how uniform they are now, you see an example of one of these process improvements, that made an improvement in the consistency of the product. And I’m sure it cut their scrap rate as well, which is more savings. Does everyone remember when the grid pattern showed up? If these improvements are paying for themselves, as they should be, at a minimum they should be helping to hold the price. I don’t expect everyone of those savings to be passed on to me, I hope the people that came up with those improvements get a piece of that. It is the rest of the picture that truly concerns me.Jan 12, 2016 at 9:11 pm #3375514
Uh, Dave….Don’t forget to go over to their website and register……….;-)Jan 13, 2016 at 11:32 am #3375588
I don’t have intimate knowledge about the details of producing cuben fiber and have no expertise in textile manufacturing, so I can’t comment too much on the processing costs of converting dyneema fibers into cuben fiber laminate fabric. However, I do have some experience with some of the materials and processing that are involved in it.
Dyneema fibers themselves are not that cheap. The process (gel-spinning and drawing) to produce highly aligned UHMWPE is complicated and costly. So, yeah, the polyethylene is cheap, but first aligning it is expensive, so dyneema filaments and fibers are tremendously more expensive than the raw resin. As far as plasma treatment goes, my understanding is that it’s not incredibly expensive, and it’s used to help printability of packaging materials, etc. One reason that heat bonding probably won’t work is that if you heat aligned fibers enough to soften them, you begin to lose the structure that gives them the strength. It might be possible to find a sweet spot where they soften a bit just on the outer edges without altering the alignment, but I would have to see it to believe.Jan 13, 2016 at 1:35 pm #3375619Danny MilksBPL Member
@dannymilksLocale: SF Bay Area
@ryan – Everyone here wants to see BPL continue to be reliably objective and independent. As much as we want to give you the benefit of the doubt, you’re not helping your case when you write in the article:
“‘Ultralight’ is a short documentary film sponsored by the Dyneema Project, a public relations campaign of DSM Dyneema designed to increase awareness of and promote innovative design in gear and apparel made with Dyneema fabrics.”
And then you follow up with this in the forum:
“I agree that the film seems to be less documentary in nature than PR. “Documentary” was their (DSM) words to describe it, not mine. ”
You can’t write an article calling something a documentary and then state that it wasn’t your words. Did you not write the article or not?
Further, your relationship with HMG is still muddy, mostly due to your own explanation:
“Regarding my affiliation with HMG: When I was an “ambassador” there was nothing required from each other. Mike would send me a gear sample here and there, I’d try it out, and send him back some feedback. No strings attached…I’m not an “ambassador” or “sponsored” or otherwise have any consulting or financial relationship with any company in the outdoor industry outside of BPL.”
I’m sorry, but getting thousands of dollars of free gear sounds like a financial benefit to you. And getting said gear in exchange for feedback certainly sounds like a consulting gig, even if it’s not written in a contract or the like.
While we all want to believe BPL is run fairly and objectively, and you may be in fact doing that, the appearance is otherwise.Jan 13, 2016 at 2:13 pm #3375623Franco DarioliSpectator
@francoLocale: Gauche, CU.
“I agree that the film seems to be less documentary in nature than PR. “Documentary” was their (DSM) words to describe it, not mine. ”
So Ryan just repeated the terminology used by DSM. (see the frame above)
The same as I need to refer to some demented collection of sounds and meaningless lyrics as “songs” because that is what they are called by their authors.Jan 13, 2016 at 10:50 pm #3375724
Gator, I already laid out the cost comparisons for the production of a Dyneema/Spectra fiber from raw UHMW, compared to other fibers and raw materials. There is plenty of information out there to support my comparisons, for how those costs translate into real world products. Is it more expensive?, Yes, no one is denying that, but is it justified? Along with 20 other related things, is the real question. Like I mentioned before, this stuff is no where near to being new at this point, so like with anything else, as the R&D and initial capital investments are paid off, and your continuous improvements yield dividends, you should then see availability increase, and prices come down. Like I mentioned before, at a minimum you should see the product improve, as well as availability, with prices holding. That is not what we are seeing here, which signals that something is going on, ie. supply issues, production problems, or the build up of a simple buy/pump/dump. Regardless of what those factors are, anyone in this industry that consumes, manufactures, or associates with these things WRT Cuben, has some sort of stake in how those factors play out, and affect this particular market. With the end consumer(Every BPL reader), bearing the broadest affects of all of this.
If we were talking about a new product, and company for that matter, that was completely novel, some of the conversation about raw materials, and production costs would be much more relevant from a speculative point of view, but at this point we are talking about an existing product, produced by an existing company, with plenty of precedent as to its role, costs, availability, and relationship with the light weight backpacking industry. What I am talking about is the current contrast with that history, and a lot of other “knowns”. I don’t need to speculate about the rest, we have a pretty good, broad picture that has developed over time to inform us about all of that.
You are correct, the actual plasma treatment is not all that expensive of a process, depending on a few things. One of them being consumables like sputtering targets. I would suspect that given the material(UHMW), that these costs are very reasonable, but my assumption on that may not be correct. Some sputtering targets have to be made with expensive materials, and require tight tolerance manufacturing, or complex machined shapes(rare), which increases their price. Same goes for frames and arrays that hold the target/s. I’ve built a lot of the before mentioned for several industries, and you are talking about a range of $10-$1000 each. Some processes require multiple targets/frames, and again depending on several factors, these have to be replaced as they erode. My assumption, based on what I’ve seen in other industries is that we are talking about relatively small, simple flat discs made from average materials(the $10 variety)
As Danny is touching on WRT BPL, the concern is about the bigger picture of how a lot of this relates to and affects this industry, with much of that concern being about integrity. I would say that concern is on a number of levels, for many reasons, to many different people, that make the cost of a sputtering target completely irrelevant.Jan 14, 2016 at 10:18 am #3375793
I certainly agree that something else is going on besides raw material costs, without a doubt.
Resin prices, I believe, are now less than $1/lb. Dyneema fiber prices are something like tens of dollars per pound retail, and cuben fiber is hundreds of dollars per pound. Why? I think that’s the question we’re both asking. It’s probably related to both low demand and somewhat sketchy supply chain issues. Is DSM putting tight controls on licensing?
I don’t know the answers to these issues, but I still posit that as dyneema and spectra-like fibers become commoditized and produced generically, prices on subsequent materials, like cuben fiber, will drop tremendously.Jan 14, 2016 at 11:04 am #3375799Brad RogersBPL Member
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
I don’t think Ciben Fiber will ever be a commodity though. Mainstream tent makers aren’t going to use it and other than sails what is it used for?
It seems to me that the whole Cuben Fiber market is two niche groups racing sail boats and ultralight backpackers.
I imagine the future lies in some sort of UL Waterproof fabric that can be sewn and seam taped. That way the big tent makers can use their existing manufacturing processes.
I think cuben is and always will be a niche product.
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