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A-Z of Carbon Fibers, Making, Challenges, Facts, And Much More

Carbon fiber is also known as graphite fiber or carbon graphite. Carbon fibers are made from thin strands of the element carbon. These fibers are extremely strong and have great tensile strength. A carbon nanotube is a form of a carbon fiber which is considered as the strongest material available on the market. Carbon fibers have numerous applications and have a wide range of uses. They reused in construction, engineering, high-performance vehicles, musical instruments, sports equipment, etc. Carbon fiber is also used in the field of energy such as in the production of windmill blades, fuel cells for transportation, natural gas storage, etc.  

Carbon fiber has an application in the aircraft industry as well and is used in commercial and military aircraft. It is also utilized in oil exploration and is used for the manufacturing of pipes, drilling platforms, etc.  

In our article, today, have a better understanding of carbon fibers and know several facts about them. Read on to know more about them.  

Raw materials used to manufacture carbon fiber

Carbon fiber sheets are made from organic polymers, that comprises lengthy strings of​ molecules and are fastened together by carbon atoms. Almost 90% of carbon fibers are made from polyacrylonitrile (PAN) processes. Another 10% of carbon fibers are manufactured by using either the petroleum pitch process or rayon. Different qualities and grades of carbon fibers are manufactured by utilizing varied gases, liquids and other materials.  

A blend of raw materials is used by the manufacturers and they utilize proprietary formulas to develop general fibers. Specific formulations are treated as trade secrets by carbon fiber manufacturers. The best quality of carbon fiber produced has the most efficient modulus and is used for demanding applications such as in aerospace. High-quality fibers have great elasticity and are therefore used for the most strenuous applications. They are expensive as well.  

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Manufacturing process 

Carbon fibers are manufactured by utilizing the following steps. Five segments are typically used to manufacture carbon fibers.  

  • Spinning – PAN is combined with other raw materials or ingredients and are​ effectively twirled into fibers. These fibers are then washed and stretched to bring it to the desired size and level of thickness.  
  • Stabilizing – Fibers are made to withstand several chemical alterations that further​ helps to stabilize bonding in the fiber sheets.  
  • Carbonizing – Stabilized fibers are then heated at an elevated temperature so that​ tight carbon crystals are easily formed. 
  • Treating the surface – Bonding properties in the fiber is improved more by oxidizing​ the surface of fibers.  
  • Sizing – Fibers are further coated and converted into bobbins, and are loaded onto​ spinning machines. The machines twist the fiber into several yarns of different sizes. Instead of weaving them into the fabric, fibers are also constructed into composite materials. Pressure, heat, or vacuum is used to bind fibers with plastic polymers.  

Carbon fiber manufacturing challenges 

Several challenges are carried along with the carbon fiber manufacturing​ process. Let us​ know what are they –  

  • The treatment process of the surface must be carefully regulated, so as to avoid the creation of pits, etc. Such creations result in defective fiber.  
  • More cost-effective repair and recovery is needed in the manufacturing of carbon fiber. 
  • The manufacturing procedure may have several health and safety issues that include breathing problems, skin irritation, etc.  
  • The manufacturing cost of several applications is unstable. For instance, even though new technology is developed, prohibitive costs make the use of carbon fibers limited to luxurious and high-performance vehicles.  
  • Consistent quality is ensured with the help of closed control.  

A few things to know about carbon fiber 

  • Strength versus weight – Carbon fiber is the strongest and lightest material known​ per weight. It has three times the strength of aluminium and its weight is one half. An extremely versatile element that suits several applications perfectly well. It is best suited for applications that require low weight and stiffness at the same time.  
  • The matrix – The carbon fiber composite products are produced from a combination​ of reinforcement with the matrix. This combination of the fiber and matrix provides superior quality to either of the materials alone. When it comes to autoclave composites, the fibers carry the majority of the load and the properties of the​ materials are characterized. Anything produced from carbon fiber is loosely known as carbon or carbon composite.  
  • Ground down – Graphite carbon or the thermal carbon is a grind of carbon fibers.​ They are mixed with resin and injection that is formed under extreme pressure and heat. Hence, it can also be called as heat-treated carbon fiber. It is used to construct tennis rackets, mountain bike frames, snowshoes, formula one, etc.  
  • Orientation – The engineer is free to choose from a wide range of fibers and resin so​ as to obtain the desired quality and material properties. The fiber orientations and material thickness are optimized as per every application. For instance, the use of kevlar is popularly known for its bulletproof applications and helps to enhance the tensile strength of carbon fiber.  
  • Lifespan – With time, carbon fiber is believed to dry out and age. However, this​ property of carbon fiber is easily controlled with the help of a few precautions. After you wash your motorcycle, ensure to apply a protectant or silicone. It helps to restore the shiny appearance of the fiber used. Apply the protectant on a piece of cloth first and then use this treated cloth to wipe the carbon fiber.  

Carbon Fiber

The manufacturing procedure of carbon fiber is notoriously difficult and the production of each company differs from its competitors. It is expensive at the same time. However, they are highly durable and the best quality ones are used extensively for a high level of applications. No other element has such applications. No manufactures like to discuss their manufacturing procedure and they are tight-lipped in the race of making their product stand out. Carbon fibers have different tensile modulus, compressive and fatigue strength. The products also vary in the degree of carbon content and the kind of surface treatment used. Carbon fibers offer 10 times the strength of steel.  

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