Carbon Fiber is a material that is made up out of extremely thin fibers of carbon. The fibers of roughly 5 to 10 micrometer are build out of stretched carbonfibercrystals. A few thousand of these fibers are woven together to form 1 wire of carbonfiber.
Carbon fiber and its strength
Carbon fiber is famous for having incredible strength, but this is not only achieved by the fiber itself. The carbon fibers are usually combined with resin where the fibers form the strengthening force within the final product. Similar to reinforced concrete, where the steel bars add strength to the concrete block. Carbon fiber with resin creates a very light products with an incredible strength and resistance to deformation. Due to its formation, carbon fibers have the characteristic to resist oxidation by water of oxygen, has a relatively low density with a very high tensile-strength and a low expansion-coefficient. This makes it ideal for use in aircrafts, the car industry, certain sport-accessories and construction.
Carbon fiber in detailing
Because of the combination with resin and the carbon fibers, you end up with a transparent layer of resin with a smooth surface. Within this resin you can see the fibers inside the resin. The smooth surface is visible on the outside and is one of many surfaces that can suffer from surface imperfections. Polishing this surface will increase gloss and improve appearance. Due to its unique pattern and look, the “carbon-look” has become popular with car fanatics and tuners. The woven look of the fibers creates a very unique reflective pattern, making it stand out when light hits it from a certain angle. Although most accessories are either covered by a carbon-fiber wrap, or hydro-dipped to make it look like carbon fiber, there are very little items that are actually made out of true carbon fiber. This is mostly due to the very high prices to create custom shapes with real carbon fiber.
Another popular method, is to create a shape out of glass fiber and then cover the last few layers with a woven material that resembles carbon fiber. Even thos the glass fibers offer high strength, and the resin is still designed to cure to a very hard finish, the end product will not be as extremely strong as real carbon-fiber.
Although some have become interested in the unique look of carbon fiber, there are many cases where the material is painted to create a more common cosmetic effect. For example, the McLaren F1 uses a full body carbon fiber shell, that is covered with normal automotive paint. The end product offers very high strength, low weight, no rust or other form of oxidation that is very rigid. The body shell itself is strong enough to withstand deformation and can form as a strengthening factor for the entire vehicle. The paint used on this body can be regular automotive paint and can be polished as normal. From the outside, it is not possible to see the difference. A small downside might be that the heat dissipation is different, which might cause you to keep a closer eye on raising surface temperatures.
Carbon fiber reinforced polymers
Besides the use within resin, the strong fibers can also be used within other products. One of these products is plastic, where the fibers can be used within the plastic to reinforce it in a similar way as the steel bars within reinforced concrete. The type of resin, polymer or thermoset used in this setup is often based upon a resin-like material such as polyester, vinylester or nylon. The composite could be made from different type of fibers, such as aramid (aka Kevlar), aluminium or glass fibers. In some cases, these materials are even combined to create a product with very specific characteristics.
Other uses of carbon fiber
Although there are numerous applications for carbon fiber in many different ways or forms, a detailer can find several carbon components on some type of cars. Certain supercars use carbon-brakes. Although these are not the same as carbon fiber, the rough material can be compared to one another. Carbon brakes do not bleed from a fallout remover, don’t contain any iron.
Certain suspension components can also be made from carbon fiber, which can be difficult to clean or polish. The resin has a higher hardness then regular automotive paint, which makes it more difficult to remove surface imperfections.
There is a very large difference between carbon fiber wraps and real carbon fiber. The “fakes” only offer the looks of the product, not the strength and other properties.