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Carbon Fiber

At its core, carbon fiber is composed of thin, strong crystalline filaments of carbon, that are used to reinforce other materials, enhancing performance and durability. Today, this composite material is a key component in fields ranging from aerospace and automotive to sports equipment and advanced engineering.


making quality carbon fiber parts and rapid prototypes

The reinforcement of materials with carbon fiber, known as carbon fiber reinforcement, involves embedding carbon fiber into a matrix (often a plastic polymer) to form a carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP). This CFRP composite material is known for its exceptional strength-to-weight ratio, a crucial factor in many high-performance applications.


Carbon Fiber Prototyping Methods

Rapid prototyping is a process that transforms digital designs into tangible parts quickly and efficiently. Carbon fiber has become a crucial material in this process, especially for applications demanding parts with superior strength and lightweight. In the rapid prototyping process using carbon fiber, the journey begins with a digital model, usually created using computer-aided design (CAD) software. The model is then brought to life using additive manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing or selective laser sintering.

At XTJ Rapid, there are two ways to make carbon fiber prototypes: prepreg carbon fiber moulding and carbon fiber machining. But additive manufacturing is another way to make carbon fiber parts that has opened new frontiers for manufacturing. In this section, we will take a look into these three carbon fiber prototyping methods.


1. Prepreg Carbon Fiber Moulding
Prepreg carbon fiber molding enables the creation of complex and intricate shapes and allows for precise control over the orientation of the fibers during the layup process. The process consists of four main steps:


Step 1: Mould tool making. Molds are used as tools to create multiples of the same part. manufactured often from aluminium or steel depending on the quantity of parts required and the tolerances required.

Step 2: Carbon fiber processing. The carbon fibre prepreg sheets are then manually laid by skilled technicians onto the prepared mould surface in a specific orientation and the resin-infused carbon fiber sheets, known as prepreg, are then carefully arranged to achieve the desired characteristics.


making carbon fiber parts via prepreg carbon fiber tooling

Step 3: Curing. Following this the parts are then cured. This step is vital for achieving the desired material properties, strength, and structural integrity of the final carbon fiber composite part.

Step 4: Post processing. Lastly, the parts are post processed. This step is important to achieve professional-looking carbon fiber prototypes. The smoother the mold and the neater the application, the less post-processing required.


2. Carbon Fiber Machining
CNC (Computer Numerical Control) technology also plays a role in shaping carbon fiber parts. It is a subtractive manufacturing process, where material is removed from a solid block of carbon fiber or a carbon fiber composite to achieve the desired shape. Machining carbon fiber can be challenging, therefore, working with an experienced manufacturer is important.


cnc machined carbon fiber parts made by HLH Rapid

Carbon fiber because of its low coefficient of thermal expansion, there is less warping or distortion during machining, which allows for greater accuracy in dimensions and more consistent results throughout production runs. This makes it particularly useful for creating parts with high precision and a smooth surface finish, such as electronic enclosures and automotive chassis and frames.


3. 3D Printed Carbon Fiber
3D printed carbon fiber combines the design flexibility of 3D printing with the strength and durability of carbon fiber, offering unparalleled advantages in manufacturing complex and high-strength parts. The process involves using continuous or chopped carbon fiber filaments to form the final shape using an additive manufacturing technology.


using additive manufacturing to make carbon fiber parts and prototyoes

Fused filament fabrication (FFF) and continuous fiber fabrication (CFF) are two common carbon fiber 3D printing technologies. In FFF, carbon fiber filaments are extruded through a heated nozzle, layer by layer, to build a part. CFF, on the other hand, embeds continuous carbon fiber strands into a thermoplastic matrix, providing even greater strength and stiffness.

Successful applications of 3D printed carbon fiber are abundant and diverse. In the automotive industry, it has been used to create lightweight, high-strength components that improve fuel efficiency and performance. Aerospace companies leverage it for manufacturing parts that withstand extreme conditions while minimizing weight.


Advantages of of Carbon Fiber in Rapid Prototyping

The integration of carbon fiber into rapid prototyping has ushered in a new era in manufacturing, bringing with it a host of unique benefits that set it apart from traditional materials. Understanding these advantages is crucial for industries aiming to stay at the forefront of innovation and efficiency.


Strength to Weight Ratio: Carbon fiber’s exceptional strength-to-weight ratio is one of its primary advantages. It is incredibly strong yet significantly lighter compared to metals like steel or aluminum. This quality is particularly beneficial in sectors such as aerospace and automotive, where reducing weight without compromising strength is critical.
High Tensile Strength: Carbon fiber exhibits high tensile strength, meaning it can withstand considerable force without stretching or breaking. This property is essential for creating components that are both durable and reliable, especially in high-stress environments.
Stiffness: Carbon fiber is known for its high modulus of elasticity, providing stiffness and rigidity. This stiffness is advantageous in prototypes that require structural integrity and minimal deflection.
High Performance: Carbon fiber’s resistance to fatigue and its thermal stability contribute to its high performance in challenging conditions. This makes it a preferred material for advanced engineering applications where longevity and performance consistency are paramount.
Low Volume Production Flexibility: Rapid prototyping with carbon fiber is highly adaptable to low volume production, making it an excellent choice for custom or specialized projects. This flexibility is well-suited for industries that require tailored solutions or for the production of niche, high-value products.
Advantages Over Traditional Materials: Carbon fiber often outperforms traditional materials like steel and aluminum in terms of strength, stiffness, and weight. This gives prototypes a competitive edge in terms of performance and efficiency.

Tips for Designing Parts for Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber is all about reducing weight while maintaining strength. Due to the high costs of the current processes for manufacturing carbon fiber parts it is important to understand the limitations and what you can do to bring costs down.


high quality carbon fibre services

Underlying layers are one area you can reduce costs if your end use allows. The distinctive 3K weave pattern is a big draw for choosing carbon fiber, but these are more expensive than UD sheets or fiberglass which can be used as the bottom layers with a 3K top sheet.

Fine, sharp features can be difficult to reproduce, so ensure there are sufficient radii on the part to allow the fabric to follow the contour easily


XTJ is a leading OEM Manufacturer that is dedicated to providing one-stop manufacturing solutions  from prototype to production. We are proud to be an ISO 9001 certified system quality management company and we are determined to create value in every customer relationship. We do that through collaboration, innovation, process improvements, and exceptional workmanship.




Make the best product possible with the help of our international team of experts. When you’re ready for a project review, contact us for a free quote.

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