Carbon Fiber

Introduction

In 1879, Thomas Edison discovered carbon fiber by baking filaments of cotton at high temperatures and carbonizing them to yield a fabric made of pure carbon atoms. Carbon fiber is a composition of carbon atoms that are fused together to form a long axis of fabric, which joins to create honeycomb-like filaments. In this honeycomb form, crystals arrange themselves in extended flattened ribbons. The ribbon is strong at the long axis due to the crystal arrangement. Today, several methods of manufacturing carbon fiber exist; however, an essential process entails making fibers out of the original material that is rich in carbon. To form a composite quality, carbon fiber is usually integrated with other materials such as plastic resin, for example, which creates an extremely rigid though the brittle form of carbon-fiber-reinforced-polymer. The carbon fiber produced is the same material, which was originally used in the manufacturing process; meanwhile, chemical structural properties of the interior are usually modified with the help of countless heating cycles. These fibers are tremendously light, strong, and stiff; these properties make it useful in the civil engineering, aerospace, motorsport, and military. The paper seeks to discuss properties and structure of carbon fiber, its industrial application, and reasons behind it preference to substitutes.

Material Properties

The major factors used in the identification of material properties of carbon fiber are the layered orientation of the carbon ribbons plane and the carbon content, which is also known as the carbonization degree that is normally above 92% by heaviness (Jorio, Dresselhaus, & Dresselhaus, 2007). Commercially, fibers are produced in a various amorphous and crystalline contents in order to strengthen or modify different characteristics. The stiffness against strength is the main peculiar variation of carbon fiber (Liu, 2015). Various properties of carbon fiber include rigidity, electrical conductivity, self-lubrication, as well as being relatively expensive, non-poisonous, x-ray permeable, a good tensile strength but brittle, fatigue resistance, corrosion resistance, brittle, non-flammable, specific strength, and thermal conductivity.

The stiffness or rigidity of a substance is measured using its Young Modulus; in this way, the ability of the material to deflect under pressure is measured (Oskar, 2016). In terms of the rigidity, reinforced plastic made of carbon fiber is four times harder that a similar plastic made of reinforced glass, 20 times greater than pine, and 20 stints harder than aluminum (Rehkopf, 2012). It is also chemically stable and corrosion resistant since the fiber shows no sign of measurable deterioration when exposed to reactive chemicals. Nevertheless, it is sensitive when being exposed to the sunlight; thus, it should be protected. The electrical conductivity of carbon fiber can either be a useless or beneficial depending on the application. For instance, one should consider a case when it used in electrical fittings with the view to reducing corrosion by easing the Galvanic Corrosion process.

Thermal conductivity being a measure of the heat flow through a medium, for carbon fiber, owing to many theme variations in it, its thermal conductivity cannot be pinpointed to an exact measure (Somiya, 2013). Even though carbon fiber has exceptional advantages over other materials, it is relatively expensive in terms of production. Therefore, the unless advantage of weight is of special importance in the case of aeronautics or racing applications when the extra cost often does not matter (Jorio, Dresselhaus, & Dresselhaus, 2007). The advantageous feature of carbon fiber is that it requires low maintenance. Despite a popular idea that carbon fiber is nonpoisonous and biologically inert, it can be still quite hazardous; thus, its unprotected and long-term exposure needs to be minimized (Oskar, 2016).

Out of numerous materials tested, only Spectra fiber and Kevlar have a better specific strength as compared to carbon fiber (Oskar, 2016). The internal structure of carbon fiber, the crystalline orientation in lengthy flat ribbons of the honeycomb crystal shape, provides the material with the strength that is felt more lengthwise the fiber than across it. It is the reason as to why in the process of manufacturing, the direction of laying the fiber is always specified by designers so as to maximize the rigidity and strength in the specified direction. In addition, the fatigue resistance and static strength of carbon fiber are relatively good as compared with other materials such as E-glass, for example (Rehkopf, 2012). However, carbon fiber usually tends to show catastrophic failure without any prior indications of such an instance. Different orientations and layers in the fiber significantly influence the carbon fatigue resistance.

The tensile strength is the maximum amount of stress that can be withstood by a material if being pulled or stretched before failing or necking. In such a manner, due to the internal flaws in it, carbon fiber does not fail under uniform stress levels but rather under small strains (Somiya, 2013). The brittle property of carbon fiber is a result of robust covalent bonds that form layers of the fiber. The spread of cracks is not easily allowed due to the presence of sheet-like clumps that reinforce the carbon fiber; thus, it does not take long to fail when exposed to a bending form. The characteristic of carbon fiber to be non-flammable depends on the process of its manufacturing and the original material that is integrated into the firefighting protective clothing due do the chemical property of carbon to be very inert (Jorio, Dresselhaus, & Dresselhaus, 2007).

Material Structure

Carbon fiber is a composition of very tiny strands of carbon atoms that are fused together to form a long axis. The diameter of each fiber is between 5-10 microns whereby one micron is equal to 0.000039 inches (Liu, 2015). The stiffness of carbon fiber is twice that of steel; moreover, steel is five times weaker than carbon per given unit weight. Carbon fiber has an atomic structure that is similar to that of graphite if graphene sheets are in a regular hexagonal patterned arrangement. Depending on the nature of the original material, carbon fiber can either be turbostratic or graphitic; in some cases, it can even be a hybrid fiber: both turbostratic and graphitic in nature (Oskar, 2016).

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For a turbostratic fiber made of carbon, carbon atoms sheets are crumbled or haphazardly folded together. Polyacrylonitrile (PAN) carbon fibers are turbostratic in nature while graphitic carbon fibers result from the mesophase pitch after being treated by heat at temperatures above 2200°C (Jorio, Dresselhaus, & Dresselhaus, 2007). Turbostratic carbon fibers have a tendency of developing a great tensile strength but carbon fibers that are a result of heat treatment from mesophase pitch usually have a high thermal conductivity and high Young’s modulus.

Applications

Due to some unique specifications, carbon fiber tends to be attractive to many consumers. Applications of carbon fiber are numerous. In the robotic and automobile industries machines are often required to run for longer durations of time, for instance, 24/7. Heavy mechanical elements can be replaced with those made of carbon fiber; they are optimized and, in turn, decrease the time for producing a part and a manufacturer of robot arms (Oskar, 2016). Carbon fiber can also be applied in the production of sporting goods and aerospace, for instance, in the construction of airplanes, helicopters, and even jet fighters. It can be used in the road and marine transport in the manufacture of pick-up arms. Another application is in the manufacture of audio equipment such as loudspeakers and Hi-Fi equipment (Liu, 2015).

Medical applications of carbon fiber include x-ray and surgery equipment, implants, prostheses, and ligament or tendon repair. Another usage of the material is the radiology equipment and manufacturing retaining rings for large generators. The chemical industry application includes seals, pumps, valves, nuclear field, and processing plants in producing pump components. In addition, the carbon fibers and elements can be used in the creation of large telescopes, optical benches, missiles, and stable high frequency (GHZ) waveguides that are utilized in the accuracy measurement frames. Moreover, firefighting and control protective equipment, for example, fire blankets, is made of carbon fibers (Somiya, 2013). Carbon fiber has been increasingly adopted in the production of furniture.

In military applications, for example, in the construction of radar systems, the challenge of moving this equipment to remote locations is eliminated by the use of carbon fiber in the construction of lightweight models (Jorio, Dresselhaus, & Dresselhaus, 2007). As a result, airplanes and vehicles that carry these radar systems will experience a great reduction in weight and, consequently, will increase their carrying capacity and distance. Moreover, the construction of both military and SWAT gears that are more portable, stronger, and lighter enables them to perform their specified missions (Somiya, 2013). A wide variety of carbon fibers and its compound materials are used in medals, trophies, executive and corporate gifts, custom awards and other similar application, for example, the interior design with the view to changing the outward appearance and texture. Finally, carbon fiber can be used in the production of the metrological and scientific equipment (Liu, 2015).

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Reason that Justifies the Applications

In the automobile and robotic application, the electrical conductivity, physical strength, toughness, and light weight properties of carbon fiber are put into consideration (Jorio, Dresselhaus, & Dresselhaus, 2007). The properties of good damping vibration, toughness, and strength are made use of in manufacturing the audio equipment. In the production of radiological equipment and retaining rings for large generators, the electromagnetic property of carbon fiber is of particular importance. The chemical inertness and high resistance to corrosion make carbon fiber a perfect component in the chemical industry in the development of seals, valves, and nuclear fields (Oskar, 2016). In the general engineering and textile machinery industry, the physical properties of high damping ratio, self-lubrication, and fatigue resistance for carbon fiber are put into consideration.

In the medical application, including x-ray and surgery equipment manufacture, carbon fiber is used due to its property in x-ray permeability and biological inertness (Somiya, 2013). In firefighting, the inertness property of carbon fiber enables it to be used in the production of protective clothes. In line, in missile, large telescopes, and optical benches construction, carbon fiber is preferred due to its low thermal expansion coefficient and abrasion, as well as the high dimensional stability (Rehkopf, 2012).In military applications, due to its good tensile strength and light weight, carbon fiber is preferred to other materials since appropriate equipment made of it has proved to be stronger and more portable (Liu, 2015). 
Carbon fiber provides goods made of it with a classy feel and high-tech appearance; thus, the material is more resourceful in interior designs, as well as the production of both corporate gifts and luxury items (Oskar, 2016). A piece of furniture can gain a hi-end look in addition to the overall weight reduction by the use of carbon fiber in its construction since the material is durable, light-weight, and has a good appearance. In the modern era, most metrological and scientific equipment are made of carbon fiber due to its low thermal expansion and high stability. In a situation where comparable metal alignment and measurement tools, when exposed to thermal changes, have a likelihood to alter its tolerance due to the metal contraction or expansion, carbon fiber is the  preferred material as it remains nearly constant under a varied range of temperatures (Somiya, 2013).

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