What are Carbon Fiber Tubes Used For?
Tubular structures are useful for a wide array of applications. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the unique properties of carbon fiber tubes place them in high demand in many industries. More and more often these days, carbon fiber tubes replace steel, titanium, or aluminum tubes in applications where weight is an important factor. Weighing in at as little as ⅓ the weight of aluminum tubes, it’s no wonder that carbon fiber tubes are often the preference in industries such as aerospace, high-performance vehicles, and sporting equipment, where weight is a crucial factor.
Carbon Fiber Tube Properties
Some of the unique properties that make carbon fiber tubes preferable to tubes made of other materials include:
- High strength-to-weight and stiffness-to-weight ratios
- Resistance to fatigue
- Dimensional stability due to an extremely low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE)
Carbon Fiber Tube Characteristics
Carbon fiber tubes are typically produced in circular, square, or rectangular shapes, but they can be fabricated into almost any shape, including oval or elliptical, octagonal, hexagonal, or custom shapes. Roll-wrapped prepreg carbon fiber tubes consists of multiple wraps of twill and/or unidirectional carbon fiber fabric. Roll-wrapped tubes work well for applications that need high bending stiffness combined with low weight.
Alternatively, braided carbon fiber tubes are made up of a combination of carbon fiber braid and unidirectional carbon fiber fabric. Braided tubes offer excellent torsional characteristics and crush strength, and they are well-suited for high-torque applications. Large diameter carbon fiber tubes are typically constructed using rolled bi-directional woven carbon fiber. By combining the right fiber, fiber orientation, and fabrication process, carbon fiber tubes can be created with the proper characteristics for any application.
Other characteristics that can be varied by application include:
- Materials—Tubes can be fabricated from standard, intermediate, high, or ultra-high modulus carbon fiber.
- Diameter—Carbon fiber tubes can be made from very small to large diameters. Custom ID and OD specifications can be met for particular needs. They can be made in fractional and metric sizes.
- Tapering—Carbon fiber tubes can be tapered for progressive stiffness along the length.
- Wall thickness—Prepreg carbon fiber tubes can be fabricated to virtually any wall thickness by combining layers of various prepreg thicknesses.
- Length—Roll-wrapped carbon fiber tubes come in several standard lengths or can be built to a custom length. If a requested tube length is longer than recommended, multiple tubes can be joined with internal splices to create a longer tube.
- Exterior and sometimes interior finish—Prepreg carbon fiber tubes typically have a cello-wrapped gloss finish, but a smooth, sanded finish is available, too. Braided carbon fiber tubes typically come with a wet-looking, shiny finish. They can also be cello-wrapped for a glossier finish, or a peel-ply texture can be added for better bonding. Large diameter carbon fiber tubes are textured on both the interior and exterior to allow for bonding or painting of both surfaces.
- Exterior materials—Using prepreg carbon fiber tubes allows for the option of selecting different exterior layers. In some cases, this can also allow the customer to select the exterior color.
Carbon Fiber Tube Applications
Carbon fiber tubes can be used for many tubular applications. Some current common uses include:
- Robotics and automation
- Telescoping poles
- Metrology instrumentation
- Idler rollers
- Drone components
- Lightweight drums
- Industrial machinery
- Guitar necks
- Aerospace applications
- Formula 1 race car components
With their light weight and superior strength and stiffness, combined with a wide array of customizable options, from fabrication process to shape to length, diameter, and sometimes even color options, carbon fiber tubes are useful for numerous applications across many industries. The uses for carbon fiber tubes are really only limited by one’s imagination!