Scientists at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology have devised a carbon fiber fabrication process that they say is considerably quicker and easier than the conventional method. Traditionally, carbon fiber products are made by lining a form with carbon fiber matting, saturating the matting with liquid resin, repeating this process for several layers, plastic-bagging the whole works and pumping all the air out, then baking it in an oven. The Fraunhofer process does away with the matting, liquid resin, vacuum-bagging and oven, and will hopefully make carbon fiber more abundant and thus more affordable.
The process utilizes carbon fibers that are integrated into kilometer-long strips of meltable resin tape. The tape strips are laid down over the form, side-by-side and on top of one another. Once in place, they’re compressed, and joined together by the heat of a laser melting the resin. Because the laser’s intensity can be precisely controlled, it emits just enough heat/light to melt the resin for the amount of time needed for the tape strips to bond. The end product needs much less cooling time than would otherwise be required, allowing the production process to move along quicker.
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With the conventional method, completed carbon fiber parts are joined together using glue. With the Fraunhofer process, they’re joined by using an infrared laser to melt their touching surfaces, then pressing them together until the melted resin resets. The result, we are told, is “an extraordinarily stable bond.”
Before you start envisioning that carbon fiber dinnerware set, however, be advised that this is still all in the prototype phase.