An Introduction to Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber products are hardly new, yet they have become part of a hot trend in our marketplace. It's becoming more difficult to think of a part that doesn't have a carbon fiber version, and more are on the way. Of course you begin to understand more fo the complexity of carbon fiber when you have to reach into your wallet to buy it. Price, however, varies greatly, even among carbon fiber parts. You need to know what it takes to work with carbon fiber, then you can better understand why some carbon fiber products are more expensive than others. If you do not, then it's easy to buy a carbon-fiber-looking part, rather than the real thing, just because of the price.
Carbon fiber is not a new material. The reason for its widespread use in aerospace, the military and racing is because it's lighter and over four times stiffer than high-tensile steel of equal weight. In aviation or racing, this means it would be possible to have a lighter vehicle or an aircraft that would be more fuel-efficient and carry a larger payload. Formula 1 uses carbon fiber to make cars lighter and accelerate quicker with less power. When the material is used for integral structural members, such as monocoque chassis tubs, it has helped contribute to impressive performances in excess of 230mph, with little more than a non-turbocharged 3.0L engine. Sound familiar?
If you were to see carbon fiber fabric before the resin is added, it would appear as a thin interwoven cloth. The available thickness of carbon fiber varies, as does its properties and the tightness of the weave. Carbon fiber is measured by its filament count, in 1000 filament increments or"k". For example, carbon fiber that is 3k will be three times stronger and denser than carbon fiber that is 1k
. Incidentally, it's important to know that products made with a lower "k" will be more expensive than those with a higher "k" (i.e carbon fiber that is 1k costs more that carbon fiber that is 3k).
The price of carbon fiber products was higher in the past, but today manufacturing is less mysterious, making it more readily available to enthusiasts. Aftermarket and racecar component companies have found more cost-effective ways of manufacturing carbon fiber products, making the parts somewhat more reasonable (yet still pricey).