Unraveling the mystery behind carbon fiber
Carbon fiber reinforced polymers, which are often just called carbon fiber, are a material that doesn’t get much time in the spotlight. It has a lot of applications—it has a huge role in the aerospace industry, it has started being used in the sporting goods and automotive industries, and is used for bicycle frames, boat hulls, and wind turbine blades. It is even used in luxury goods, such as watches and wallets, for its unique design. What is carbon fiber, and what about it makes it so useful?
Carbon fiber reinforced polymers are classified as a composite material. Composites are a class of material that are comprised of two or more components – usually a fiber and a matrix material – which remain as their discrete material and do not mix but still function together. The properties of these materials do not simply adding together; instead the combination’s properties are complimentary in nature.
In carbon fiber reinforced polymers, the matrix is often a thermoset or thermoplastic resin and the fibers are, as you probably can guess, carbon. Carbon fibers have great mechanical properties, such as high modulus of elasticity and tensile strength, but are very brittle. Combining the fibers and the resin allows the new material to be more malleable from the resin while having higher mechanical properties due to the fibers.
Carbon fiber reinforced polymers not only are strong, but they are also very lightweight. While its strength is comparable to steel in some aspects, it is a much less dense material and is often used for weight reduction. Some other benefits of carbon fiber are corrosion resistance, low coefficient of thermal expansion, chemical resistivity, and thermal and electrical conductivity. However, carbon fiber isn’t some super material – the process of manufacturing parts out of the material is very complex, it’s very expensive, and it’s still very brittle even with the resin matrix.
While I wouldn’t recommend trying to fit it into your next design project, carbon fiber definitely has its uses. Not only does carbon fiber has a lot of useful properties, it also is valued for its unique pattern and there are lot of carbon fiber films to make your parts look cool.