Carbon fiber manufacturing is no easy process. To create this lightweight, yet hard-as-steel material, there are many detailed steps. If you’re interested in crafting a new carbon fiber design for your carbon fiber prototype, here’s what you need to know about the creation of this building material.
It starts with a precursor
To craft any carbon fiber, a precursor must be used. This is the raw material that is used to create the carbon fiber. For example, the first high-performance carbon fiber materials were made from a rayon precursor.
Nowadays, around 90% of the carbon fiber materials crafted are made from polyacrylonitrile while the other 10% or so are made from rayon or petroleum pitch as a raw material. These are all classified as organic polymers because their molecular structures are long.
The carbon fiber manufacturing process begins with carbonization. To get a carbon fiber, the precursor needs to consist primarily of carbon atoms. This means that any other atoms within the structure need to be expelled before the carbon fiber is made.
First, the precursor is pulled into long fibers which are then heated at incredibly high temperatures. These fibers are heated without the presence of oxygen to ensure the material doesn’t burn. This causes vibrations in the precursor that dispel any non-carbon atoms from the material.
Following carbonization, the surface of the carbon fibers must be treated to bond with epoxies or other binding agents. What oxygen was missing from carbonization is often used here: by oxidizing the surface of the new carbon fiber, it increases the ability for chemical bonding while simultaneously roughening the surface for better physical bonding. This makes it usable for structural carbon fiber projects.
Oxidation can be utilized in a number of different ways. The carbon fiber can be exposed to carbon dioxide, ozone, or even nitric acid, though immersing the product in air yields the desired result.
Before you’re able to craft your carbon fiber prototype, the carbon fibers must be sized, meaning they are coated to protect them during the weaving process. They are usually coated in an adhesive like epoxy or nylon. Then they are wound into bobbins, spun, and made into yarn to build a prototype.
Now that you know the carbon fiber manufacturing process, you have a better idea of what goes into crafting your carbon fiber design. Carbon fiber manufacturing is constantly evolving, so be sure to keep up with your research!