Carbon fiber, or simply carbon for short, goes by many different names and acronyms: carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CRP) or carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP). It is a composite material, a type of a fiber-reinforced plastic, and it is used in industries and areas whose products demand high levels of strength-to-weight ratio. This means that carbon fiber is extremely light but at the same time extremely strong, rigid and durable. Some of the areas and industries where those characteristics and features are very needed and sought after are aerospace, civil engineering, automotive, marine, construction, and many others are also starting to discover the good, useful and attractive uses of carbon fiber.
What is carbon fiber?
Carbon fiber is a composite material and a type of fiber-reinforced plastic. To better understand carbon fiber, it should first be clarified what composite material means as well as what fiber-reinforced plastic is, explaining some of their main features, describing some of the most important parts of their formation and production, and giving an overview of the range of their applications.
Composite material, or as it is also known, a composition material, or simply a composite, is a material made out of a combination of two or more different materials that form one structure. This new material will have different properties and characteristics than the individual originals that were combined. Interestingly, even though a new and different composite material is formed, the individual components are still visible as they do not blend and mix with each other. The reason that composite material is produced is that it will result in better and superior properties, both physical and chemical, to the properties of the individual components.
The new composite structures are preferred and widely used for many reasons – they are lighter, stronger and significantly less expensive than some traditional materials. Composites can be stronger and bear much more weight than some of the typically strongest metals, such as steel, but at the same time weigh much less, five times less than steel.
Composites have been used since ancient times, for thousands of years. For example some of the first composites were mud bricks, used as building material, or even straw mixed with mud which makes for a very strong material. Concrete is also one of the ancient composites. Historically, it was made out of stones and gravel, mixed with cement and sand, also giving a very strong composite structure. Later, in more modern times, including today, concrete has been upgraded by adding metal rods or wires to it, which in turn increases its ability to bend and stretch when necessary. Today it is called reinforced concrete and it is one of the most commonly and widely used composite materials. The first modern-day composite material used was fiberglass, which is still very familiar and commonly used. Glass is stiff and strong, but due to the fact that it is also very brittle and prone to breakage, it has been slowly replaced with carbon fibers. Other types of modern day composite materials include reinforced plastic, such as fiber-reinforced plastic, metal composites and ceramic composites.