Carbon Fiber Parts When the Finish Matters Rock West Composites .pdf
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Carbon Fiber Parts: When the Finish Matters
We spend a lot of time talking to customers about carbon fiber tubes, fabric, and even prepregs. Our goal is to make
sure that each and every customer gets exactly what they need for their particular projects. Sometimes though, the
discussion strays from things like fabrics and prepregs and focuses on finishes instead. Why? Because sometimes the
There are lots of ways to finish a carbon fiber part. More often than not, toady's manufacturers like to let the weave
show through. So you can have a plain or twill weave based on the carbon fiber material you use. Then you can choose
between glossy and matte finishes. If you want to completely hide the weave instead, you can even add a layer of
unidirectional prepreg on top or even a coat of paint.
Changing the Look of Carbon Fiber
The kind of finish you choose really depends on the image you are trying to project. A good case in point is the new
generation of ThinkPad laptops from Lenovo. Even before Lenovo took over ThinkPad manufacturing, IBM wasn't afraid
to advertise the fact that they were using carbon fiber for some of their laptop cases.
The problem they ran into, according to Ars Technica's Peter Bright, is the fact that the finish they chose to use made the
carbon fiber laptops look like they were made of ordinary plastic. Moreover, the finished look gave the impression of
rather cheap plastic. Well, that is no more.
The latest round of ThinkPads from Lenovo boasts an entirely different finish. Lenovo has dispensed with the laminate
and chosen to expose the carbon fiber instead. Not only that, they have chosen a semi-gloss finish that truly accentuates
the weave underneath. The new ThinkPads now look every bit the part as a carbon fiber-based laptop.
Finishing High Performance Cars
Lenovo isn't alone in their decision to expose the weave of the carbon fiber in their laptop cases. A number of
performance car manufacturers have done the same thing. We have seen several different models of high-performance
cars at international auto shows featuring all-carbon fiber bodies polished to a glossy finish that's so bright it hurts the
Underneath those glossy finishes is the unmistakable weave of carbon fiber. It actually looks quite stunning up close.
There is something truly attractive – even primal to some degree – about an all-carbon fiber car body with the weave
A while back we wrote about a company making motorcycle helmets with carbon fiber. They were doing the same thing.
Rather than laminate the helmets to hide the carbon fiber weave, they had openly embraced the weave and applied a
finish designed to accentuate it.
We will freely admit that leaving the carbon fiber weave fully visible in a finished product is all about aesthetics. Being
able to see the weave does nothing to improve the structural integrity of a part. But it doesn't need to. Carbon fiber is
already a high-performance material on its own. It doesn't need a beautiful finish to make it better.
So why change the finish on something like a Lenovo ThinkPad? Because customers are influenced by what they see.
Give a customer a choice between two laptops that are identical under the hood but with different finishes, and that
customer is likely to choose the one that looks better. That's just reality.
Sometimes the finish of a carbon fiber part matters. And more often than not, manufacturers are choosing to embrace
the weave. Simply put, the weave sells. It is no more complicated than that.