The Cost of Greatness: Explaining the Price of Carbon Fiber

carbon fiber

Carbon fiber is for astronauts.

Your bike frame and luxury car may disagree. But since the 1960s, space shuttles have been created with carbon fiber. That does explain the price tag the fabric comes with. Carbon fiber goes for $7 a pound, and that is after efforts to reduce the price.

But is it worth it?

If you are in manufacturing, then read below to find out exactly why you need to choose to pay that hefty price over using other materials like steel or aluminum.

Carbon Fiber Raw Materials

There are three major materials that go into creating this pricey fiber: polyacrylonitrile or PAN, rayon, and pitch. The synthetic polyacrylonitrile gives carbon fiber its durable nature.

There is a specific formula that goes into structuring the raw materials to create the carbon fiber.

Carbon Fiber Production

Producing or manufacturing carbon fiber is both a chemically reactive process and a mechanical process. There are five major production processes that precursors undergo in the manufacturing phase:

  1. Spinning: At this beginning phase, the raw materials are mixed together and then spun into one fiber.
  2. Stabilizing: The second step follows with stabilizing the fiber.
  3. Carbonizing: This is where the fiber is heated to form bonds of carbon crystals.
  4. Treating the Surface: Just as the name suggests, the fiber is then oxidized to strengthen the bonds between the fabric.
  5. Sizing: Finally the fabric is woven into different fabric.

Energy and Software

There is a lot of energy demanded to successfully complete the five stages of production, and this is most likely the major reason for the high price of carbon fiber. The energy is needed by producers to stretch and straighten the fiber and, at times, to compact it as a finished product.

In carbon fiber composite manufacturing, software has come in as an agent to help manufacturers cut down on operational costs and hopefully lower that selling price. Software strides are being made in cutting labor costs and shortening the design lifecycle of the product.

Carbon Fiber vs. Steel vs. Aluminum

For a long time, steel and aluminum have been the go-to for manufacturers seeking durability and strength at a reasonable price. But carbon fiber came onto the scene as a strong competitor, failing only in terms of price.

Carbon fiber is stronger, stiffer, and much lighter than both steel and aluminum. It is more chemically resistant and has a lower heat expansion.

The Real Price of Greatness

If we were to do the math, creating a bike frame from carbon fiber may cost around $2,000, waste included, for just one frame. If you are making one luxury bike for Tadej Pogacar, the price is not so heavy, but what about manufacturing for the mainstream consumer?

The real answer is, yes! It is still worth it.

Carbon fiber is a luxury fabric manufactured for high-end consumers who will gladly pay the right price.

Looking for a manufacturing partner? SMI Composites is an industry innovator that specializes in creating carbon fiber parts.

Contact us to get a quote.

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