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Carbon Fiber Composites: Processing Guide

Updated: Apr 4, 2022

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Processing carbon fiber (CF) composites is a tricky business, considering most engineers thinking of producing or designing come from a background of designing metallic parts. it’s been called black aluminum, and its design and fabrication have been described as black art. What is it, really?

The purpose of this design guide is to provide general information and specifications on carbon fiber composite materials and some guidelines for designing lightweight high-performance products with carbon fiber composites.

Why is Carbon Fiber?  

Carbon fiber composites have exceptional mechanical properties compared to homogenous metals and plastics. The material is strong, stiff, and lightweight. These composites are the material of choice for applications where lightweight & superior performance is paramount, such as components for spacecraft, fighter aircraft, and race cars.

What are Carbon Fiber Composites

Composite materials are made by combining reinforcement (fiber) with matrix (resin), and this combination of the fiber and matrix provides characteristics superior to either of the materials alone.

In a composite material, the fiber carries a majority of the load and is the major contributor to the material properties. The resin helps to transfer load between fibers, prevents the fibers from buckling, and binds the materials together.

How much did it cost?

Historically, carbon fiber composites have been very expensive, which has limited its use to only special applications. However, over the past fifteen years, as consumption has increased and automation in manufacturing processes has increased, the price of carbon fiber composites has declined. This fact is aided by the lowered cost of Carbon fiber material to a historic low of 15–20 USD/kg.

The combined effect has brought down the overall cost of high-end aluminum products. Today, carbon fiber composites are economically viable in many applications such as sporting goods, performance boats, performance vehicles, and high-performance industrial machinery.


Composite materials are extremely versatile. The engineer can choose from a wide variety of fibers and resins to obtain the desired material properties. Also, the material thickness and fiber orientations can be optimized for each application.