Whether you’re designing a prototype or looking for the next lightweight alternative to steel, you’ve probably encountered carbon fiber, the silk-like composite material used in aviation, sports equipment, and everything in between. Despite concerns that carbon fiber composite polymers can be brittle, they’re excellent for prototyping. Just as there are different uses for carbon fiber, so too are there many different methods its manufacture. Here are the top carbon fiber manufacturing methods, and how they’ll help you build your next prototype.
One of the quickest methods of developing a carbon fiber prototype is to simply press the fiber and resin between a two-piece aluminum mold. Unlike traditional molding, which entails layering thin layers of carbon fiber cloth to create a design, compression molding can be executed in just 80 seconds. For that reason, it’s especially popular with automobile manufacturers. That speed comes at a cost, though: the initial investment is particularly steep, requiring high-precision machinery.
Manufacturers can craft a carbon fiber prototype by hand by creating a mold and then placing it in a vacuum to set. Vacuum molding methods vary, depending on whether the carbon fiber products need to be lightweight structures (for example, if the prototype itself is very large). Generally, this is a quick way to mold low-level technology, although usually only a few carbon fiber prototypes are created per day.
Contoured composite tubing and a contoured pultrusion process are both used to create complex composite shapes. Products created using these methods are often high-strength and lightweight, making them a favorites for engineers. Carbon fiber designs created using the pultrusion method are treated with a thermosetting resin cure that is then formed into the desired shape and then set at a high temperature. With this method, designers can create springs, hollow tubes, and other complex shapes.
Ideally, you should consult with an expert prototyping service that specializes in various techniques. Experts can help you create your carbon fiber prototype based on your timeline, the quantity you need, and your budget. Creating the right prototype is the first step toward having a high-quality finished product.