Carbon fiber (also known as carbon fibre) is the super hero of the materials world – it’s one of the strongest and most lightweight materials available on the market today. Five times stronger than steel and one third its weight, carbon fiber composites are often used in aerospace and aviation, civil engineering, military, car racing and other competitive sports applications.
Carbon Fiber Fabric
Carbon fiber starts as very, very thin strands of fiber that are finer than a human hair. These strands are twisted together like yarn (called a tow) and woven into carbon fiber fabric which typically comes in 3k, 6k and 12k weights. A 3k fabric has 3,000 strands of carbon in each tow while a heavier weight 6k fabric has 6,000 strands per tow.
Carbon fiber fabric comes in a variety of weaves that have different strength properties. The most common are plain weave, harness satin weave, twill weave and unidirectional.
Weave is critical for two reasons – appearance and functionality. Each weave looks very different and sometimes people prefer the look of a certain weave for a specific application. Also, weave impacts product strength. A unidirectional weave creates a carbon fiber sheet that’s very strong in the direction of the fibers, but weak in the opposite direction. Plain and twill weaves, on the other hand, have more uniform strength since they’re strongest at the points where the fibers cross in either direction. At Protech, we use a 6k 2x2 twill weave for our standard product line; we’ve chosen it for its all around strength and good looks. We also work with a variety of other fabrics for custom orders.
Carbon Fiber Composites
To make a carbon fiber sheet (also known as a composite), carbon fiber fabric is saturated or infused with epoxy resins and heated at high temperatures. Shaped pieces are made by layering several pieces of fabric over a mold, saturating them with resin and heating it until the resin has infused through all layers.
Advantages of Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber composites stands out from the crowd for several reasons. Here are a few: