Usage of Carbon Fibre Parts Grow With Continuous Advances

By: David Copper

Despite the hundreds of hours of testing for the new class of super jumbos from Boeing and Airbus, the use of carbon fibre parts has not resulted in trouble-free manufacturing for these giant companies. Recent news articles have revealed various reliability problems, such as delamination of screwed composite parts in Boeing’s 787 Dream liner and cracks in the hybrid aluminum/carbon fibre rib feet in the Airbus A380’s wing sections. But as with any cutting-edge applications of new materials and technology, these stumbles are not entirely unexpected, and these giant commercial planes continue to be airworthy despite the publicized problems.

In less critical applications like parts for automobiles, carbon fibre parts have long been in use. Initially found in race cars then in exotics and high-dollar sports cars, lightweight carbon composite parts such as hoods and aerodynamic devices provided manufacturers with a way to reduce weight and improve performance at the same time. Today, there are even composite wheels from aftermarket manufacturers, but those who can afford them may be justifiably wary of their impact characteristics, given that carbon fiber composites have an established propensity to shatter, instead of deforming first like steel or aluminum.

But there are many auto-related applications for which composites are safe and very well suited, such as suspension braces, door panels, intake ducts, shrouds, body panels (inside and out) and the previously mentioned aero aids. Because their expense cannot be justified for budget-conscious applications, carbon fiber remains an exotic material that lends a high-tech and expensive flavor to any vehicle that uses it. Where function is a priority over cost, such as racing, composites are used as much as possible, even in places like dashboards and inner door panels. Entire bodies have been fabricated from composites, such as those used in time attack or drag cars. Even in motorcycles, the material can be found being used in fairings, ducting and also as gas tanks. They are also commonly found as housings for mufflers, where their weaved patterns provide a distinctive high-tech look to the bike.

So despite the sometimes scary news bits we read or hear about carbon fibre parts failing, the fact is their combination of light weight and high strength cannot be ignored. Already, top German carmakers are designing hybrid commuter cars that make use not just of parts but entire assemblies from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic. Like any maturing technology, the development of carbon fibre parts that are as reliable as good old steel is in the near future and we can only guess what new applications will be developed from this wonder material.

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