Carbon fiber isn’t something new, in fact it has been used in manufacturing since the 60’s. While it got its start in the aerospace and defense industries, carbon fiber was expensive to manufacture back then and neither the defense industry nor NASA worry too much about budgets. Today the cost of manufacturing is much cheaper and it has so many practical uses that you can find composite carbon fiber in many industries. Carbon fiber and the automobile industry go back almost as far but now you will find it in manufactured automobiles instead of just custom race cars.
Production of Carbon Fiber
There are two different methods that will produce carbon fiber, the first is the “wet” lay-up and it has been used since engineers first started developing composites. It is how you create shapes with mold using either fiberglass or carbon fiber and this method is the most cost effective and the easiest to produce. During the manufacturing process the fibers are put into a mold and then the resin is poured over them, it is added in layers until you have the right thickness that you are going to need. There is an art to the process, too much resin and it becomes too heavy while reducing the strength. The disadvantage of this method is that you can end up with an inconsistent product.
The other method for creating carbon fiber is the pre-impregnated lay-up and it is a newer method of manufacturing that gives better results. Using this method a small amount of the resin is added to the carbon fibers at the factory and then it is frozen to prevent curing. This method of manufacturing gives carbon fiber that is up to 20% stronger than “wet” lay-up method.
Carbon Fiber and the Automotive Industry
The automobile industry is constantly looking for methods to make cars cheaper, lighter, faster and stronger and they have been experimenting with carbon fiber materials since the early 70’s. Ford built an entire car of carbon fiber composites and GM introduced a concept car built out of the material. The car made by GM was so fuel efficient it got nearly 100 mpg. You’re probably wondering if the mileage was that good why aren’t all cars made from carbon composite fiber and the answer is the cost. While the cost is coming down it still low enough to manufacture an entire car. However, higher end cars like BMW and Mercedes are introducing carbon fiber parts. Carbon fiber parts are stronger, perform better and they look good.
Carbon fiber is going to play a much larger role in the automotive industry in the future. Car enthusiasts want it for its aesthetic appeal along with its strength and durability.