What is the first thing you think of when you hear the phrase 'carbon fiber'? As a Rock West customer, you probably think of whatever application you use carbon fiber for. Maybe you fabricate sporting goods. Perhaps your business is involved in manufacturing or industry of some sort. What would you say if we told you that transportation, in its many forms, makes up the bulk of carbon fiber use?
There is an intrinsic link between carbon fiber and the rather large umbrella that is transportation. Just think about all the modes of transportation you know of: aircraft, watercraft, trains, motorized vehicles, human powered vehicles, etc. There are probably hundreds of different forms of transportation you could think of if you stepped back and thought about it. Now consider the amount of carbon fiber that goes into manufacturing all those vehicles.
Aerospace and Maritime Industries
We can thank the aerospace and maritime industries for bringing carbon fiber into the mainstream. These two industries are primarily responsible for getting the world to consider alternatives to aluminum and steel. If it were not for the highly competitive commercial airline market for example, the composites industry would probably not be as sizable as it is today. Aerospace continues to be one of the primary consumers of composites.
Do you know how companies like Boeing and Airbus keep building bigger planes without having unmanageable wingspans? They incorporate plenty of carbon fiber and other composites that give them a more than acceptable strength-to-weight ratio into everything from fuselage panels to the wings themselves.
The maritime industry is just as important to composite development. More and more shipbuilders are turning to composite materials to increase strength and reduce weight. From luxury yachts to highly secretive military submarines, modern watercraft utilize increasingly more composites with every generation.
The Automotive Industry
As we have mentioned in previous blog posts, the automotive industry would love to use more composite materials if they could do so a bit more cost-effectively. Steel and aluminum are still the main components of car frames and bodies because they are strong enough to ensure safety and cheap enough to keep the cost of mass production under control. That first manufacturer to come up with a way to make composites as affordable as aluminum and steel will win over the world's car makers.
Future Transportation Options
There are plenty of uses for fiberglass, carbon fiber, and other composite materials in the vehicles we manufacture today. But the real potential of composites lies in the transportation of the future.
Have you heard of Elon Musk's Hyperloop project? It is all about connecting cities by way of a closed, frictionless tube through which lightweight pods travel at astounding speeds. The Hyperloop relies heavily on composites to make it work.
As long as we're talking about Elon Musk, we can't ignore the efforts of SpaceX to build a space vehicle capable of reaching Mars. Musk and his SpaceX team recently demonstrated their commitment to reaching Mars by launching a specialized rocket carrying a Tesla they had hoped to have in orbit of the Red Planet within a few years, but it looks like it will exceed that and head to the asteroid belt. Once again, composites played a huge role in getting the project off the ground.
Manufacturers and fabricators use composite materials to create everything from car parts and bike frames to skateboards and surfboards. They are also looking to composites to make future transportation options more efficient and cost-effective. It just goes to show that there is an intrinsic link between composites and transportation. Our desire to get up and go demands that we find better materials for making our vehicles.