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Carbon fiber is a high-density material that is extremely rigid and strong. It is often used as a composite material along with other materials like aluminium, glass, basalt or kevlar to provide additional performance characteristics. Its stiffness and resistance to damage is comparable to that of a metal component but it weighs significantly less. The tables below compare the mechanical properties of carbon fiber, aluminium and steel when molded into identical parts.
The thermal conductivity of carbon fiber is incredibly low. This is due to the fact that it is a non-metallic material. Despite its low conductivity, it is not as bad as aluminium and about 3 times better than steel.
The insulating property of carbon fiber is also remarkable. It is not a very good heat transfer material unless it is combined with epoxy resin. Carbon fiber composites made with epoxy resin have a conductivity of about 100 W/(m*K).
In order for the carbon fiber to perform well in a part, it must be cured properly. It is common for the part to be vacuum-bagged or autoclave-cured in order to eliminate any air bubbles that could reduce strength. It is also important that the part be cured at temperatures that are as close to ambient temperature as possible.
The chemical process of making carbon fiber is called “carbonization.” This involves drawing the precursor material into long strands or fibers and heating them to a very high temperature without allowing oxygen in contact with them. This makes the atoms vibrate violently and eventually expel any non-carbon atoms, leaving long chains of carbon atoms. The exact composition of the precursor material varies between different manufacturers and is considered a trade secret.