What is Carbon Fiber?

by Patrick Adair on July 09, 2020

If you've followed Patrick Adair Designs for awhile now, you probably know that Patrick's first ever creation was the Pure Carbon Fiber RingCarbon Fiber is a high strength material that is also extremely lightweight. These two properties along with its sleek minimalist look have made Carbon Fiber a staple in our collections. If you have never heard of carbon fiber before, you may be wondering what is carbon fiber? What is it made from and what are its applications? Keep on reading for an overview of Carbon Fiber and all of its properties and applications.

 

How is Carbon Fiber Made?

It is important to distinguish between loose/woven carbon filaments and rigid composite carbon fiber. The latter is used in aerospace and other applications (it's also the same carbon fiber we use for our rings). The former (also known as graphite fiber) is made up of fibers that are about 5-10 micrometers in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms.

Aeorspace grade carbon fiber is  also known as carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP). CFRP is a composite material. It consists of two composite parts: a matrix and reinforcement. The reinforcement is the carbon fiber which provides strength and the matrix is generally a polymer epoxy resin that binds the reinforcements together. 

About 90% of the carbon fibers produced are made from polyacrylonitrile (PAN). PAN is a synthetic polymer resin that is hard and resistant to most solvents and chemicals. The remaining 10% are made from petroleum pitch or rayon. These raw materials are organic polymers, characterized by long strings of molecules bound together by carbon atoms. The exact composition of each precursor varies from one company to another and is generally considered a trade secret.

The manufacturing process for making carbon fiber involves both mechanical and chemical processes. The precursor is drawn into long strands and then heated at a very high temperature without allowing it to come in contact with oxygen. The lack of oxygen allows the carbon fiber to withstand the high temperatures by not burning. A process known as carbonization happens at these high temperatures where a reaction in the atoms expels the non-carbon atoms. Carbonization creates tightly interlocked chains of carbon atoms with little to no non-carbon atoms remaining. From these fibers, sheets are created and depending on how they are woven, different patterns of carbon fiber will arise. At Patrick Adair Designs, we use a bidirectional (twill weave) woven sheet for the vast majority of our rings.

What is Carbon Fiber Used For?

On top of being incredibly strong, carbon fiber has a bunch of unique properties which makes it a great material for a variety of applications. Check out this fun project I did where I made Carbon Fiber Knuckles:

Carbon fiber has a:

  • high tensile strength
  • high stiffness
  • high chemical resistance
  • resistance to extremely hot temperatures
  • low weight to strength ratio 
  • low thermal expansion
  • corrosion-resistance that no other metal has.

 

At first, carbon fiber had a higher cost to produce than other materials which was one of the limiting factors of its adoption. However, over the years, more and more carbon fiber manufacturers have surfaced as the cost premium has come down over the past decade.

Carbon Fiber has an incredible amount of real-world applications as a result of its properties. The carbon fiber market size was estimated to be 4.7 billion USD in 2019. This market is growing due to its increasing demand from aerospace & defense, automotive, and wind turbine industries. 

The low density of carbon fiber makes it fairly easy to cut with the proper tools and machinery. As a result, almost anything can be made with Carbon Fiber. Every day carry items such as wallets and phone cases are being made of carbon fiber parts. Carbon fiber also has applications in aerospace engineering, automotive engineering, and civil engineering with things from aircraft wings to propeller blades to car components. Carbon fiber composites have shown to reduce car weight by 50% which improves fuel efficiency among other things.

Is Carbon Fiber Stronger than Steel?

Carbon fiber is classified by the tensile modulus of the fiber. High modulus and ultrahigh modulus carbon fibers have a tensile strength ten times stronger than steel. Its strength to weight ratio is unparalleled as carbon fibre is an incredibly lightweight material compared to steel.

Shop our Carbon Fiber Products

Now that you've read up on carbon fiber properties, how awesome does an every day high performance sleek ring that is incredibly lightweight and strong sound? On top of that, our carbon fiber rings happen to be some of our easier and cheaper products to make. Really, this low maintenance material speaks for itself so go on and take a look at our Carbon Fiber Collection.

 


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