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The “magic” of carbon fiber

My Take | January 6, 2017 | By:

I read up on carbon fiber basics to write this, even though I’ve been covering carbon fiber, its uses and products, for several years. I still don’t quite understand why it’s so strong and lightweight, but I suppose that’s a little like asking why the sky is blue. There is an explanation, but I probably don’t need to know it to write this.

What I do know is that carbon fiber is a hot commodity, figuratively speaking. In fact, it’s generally not a “commodity” but a variety of proprietary materials. The newer developments in carbon fiber, since all carbon fiber is not created equal, are particularly exciting for the advanced textiles industry. Lower cost is huge; more affordable carbon fiber means more carbon fiber can be used for more materials. That, however, is stressing demand, as our feature, “Keeping up with carbon,” explains. How the industry will address this in the future is worth watching.

There are ever-new formulations for making this amazing fiber, and they, too, are adding to its versatility and usefulness throughout the industry. If I listed all the actual (even more the possible) uses for carbon fiber textile products, it would take pages. The advanced textiles and composites industries have truly embraced this relatively new material.

The sporting world (bicycles, tennis rackets and fishing gear, for example) has long used carbon-based materials for lightweight and durable products. Aeronautics has opened up an even larger market area, and the automotive industry is beginning to move the same direction. A video of the new Apple Campus 2, shot by drone on Christmas Day when work stopped for the holiday, shows a recently installed 80-ton carbon fiber roof that covers the entrance area of the campus’s auditorium. The entire project will cost Apple about $5 billion; I would bet big money that there are many other examples of carbon fiber use in the massive complex.

There are perhaps hundreds (thousands?) of products, mostly “hidden” in industrial environments, that benefit from the magic of carbon fiber’s impressive strength-to-weight ratio. In short, it presents opportunities – lots of them, in multiple markets. And the innovations are just beginning.

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