Carbon Fiber Basics
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What is Carbon Fiber and Why Use It?
Carbon fiber (also known as carbon fibre) stands out in the materials world as one of the strongest and most lightweight materials on the market. Five times stronger than steel and one-third its weight, carbon fiber composites are ideal for any application that requires strength, durability, lightweight, and speed. You’ll see it most commonly in aviation and aerospace, robotics, medical equipment, unmanned aerial vehicles, race cars, boats, and all kinds of sports equipment from paddles and racquets, and bicycles to kayaks. And that doesn’t even count all the ways it’s used just for the way it looks!
Standard Thicknesses For Carbon Fiber
Standard thicknesses vary slightly among manufacturers. Our carbon fiber sheets range from 0.25mm (.010”) to 3.4mm (.133”) carbon fiber plates. Custom thicknesses up to .5” are available on request. We specialize in manufacturing customized layups, incorporating different materials and weaves as needed, to address the specific needs of your application.
Cutting Carbon Fiber
Thin carbon fiber sheets (up to .5mm) can be cut with scissors or a sharp razor knife. For thicker carbon fiber plates and panels, abrasive cutting wheels and Dremel tools are best. We recommend using carbide tools, abrasive type cutters, or diamond-crusted blades. Regular steel tools will do the job, but carbon fiber’s strength and abrasiveness will wear down standard tools quickly. Once your piece is cut, you can sand the edges very lightly with 220 grit sandpaper for a smooth, clean edge.
Our favorite adhesive is a high-performance, high-temperature film made by 3M because it’s quick, clean, easy to use and it holds a strong, tight bond. Rated at 400 degrees Fahrenheit, this adhesive will easily withstand the heat demands of most applications.
However, any other contact cement or adhesive will do the job. If you go this route, it’s absolutely critical that the adhesive is fully dry before pressing it to its application. Any trapped moisture will create a chemical reaction with the resin in the sheet and create bubbles on the surface over time.
High Temp Panels
Our high-temperature carbon fiber panels are made with a specially formulated high-temperature, high-strength epoxy resin. The result is a lightweight carbon panel that can withstand heat as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit with little thermal expansion. All our high temp panels are customized to your size and thickness needs. Panels using this resin system can be made in any thickness from .25mm to over ¾” and in dimensions up to 4’ x 8’.
Molded carbon fiber parts are generally made in two ways. One option utilizes prepreg – carbon fiber fabric that’s been pre-impregnated with resin. It’s laid into the mold and heated in an oven or autoclave until it's cured and set.
Vacuum infusion is the second alternative. In this case, raw carbon fiber fabric is draped over a mold and infused with epoxy resin. At Protech, we offer both, depending on the needs of the project.
Like our sheets and panels, all products are made with 100% carbon fiber. Additional cutting, drilling, and finishing can be included as needed to provide you with a completed part. We'll use your mold or work with you to create one.
Machining Carbon Fiber
CNC machining is the most common method for cutting carbon fiber parts; water-jetting can also be a good option. Many machinists avoid carbon fiber because it dulls bits quickly and the dust clogs their machines. If you’re shopping for a machinist, be sure they’re experienced with cutting carbon fiber as it cuts differently than other materials.
We’re also happy to do the work for you. Just provide us with a drawing file (preferably .dwg, .dxf or .pdf) and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll give you a quote. Turnaround time is 10-14 days for most projects.
Carbon fiber dust isn’t toxic, but it’s an irritant to the skin, eyes, and lungs much like fiberglass. If you’re cutting or sanding for some time, we highly recommend wearing gloves and a dust mask to minimize any itching, irritation, or inhalation of carbon dust. Long sleeves help as well.
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