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January 31, 2017 3 min read

Advanced Manufacturing

The previous blog post demonstrated the many possible applications for a carbon fiber hinge, but what is great about this technology is that it can be used as more than just a hinge. This process opens up a new world of possibilities in terms of manufacturing methods. Not only can carbon fiber be softened in precise locations, it can be folded and re-hardened in a new shape. This eliminates the need for a mold to create a complex shape and opens up the possibility of using carbon fiber as a replacement for cardboard and sheet metal.

Carbon Fiber Cardboard

Cardboard boxes are great; they can be folded flat and easily stored, or they can be folded into shape to protect the contents inside. In addition to this, they are very cheap and recyclable; a near perfect product! However, have you ever received a package and found a giant hole ripped through the box? We certainly have. Now imagine your valuable item getting shipped in a box that is 3 times stronger than steel, but 5 times lighter? That’s a carbon fiber box. Through our process, we could make reusable, carbon fiber boxes that could be used for shipping and transport of fragile goods. Instead of throwing this packaging away, the end user could fold it down and reuse it when they need to ship something important. Alternatively, they could use it as a sturdy box or even a table! Just imagine getting your next pair of Nike sneakers in a real carbon fiber box! The options are limitless! We can take any 2D flat pattern and turn it into a carbon fiber shape. It’s the origami of the future!

Carbon Fiber Sheet Metal

Similarly, sheet metal is a more advanced form of origami that once folded into shape remains in that shape. In the cardboard application, the carbon fiber is hinged and remains flexible so that it can fold down. In the case of sheet metal forming, we would take the same pattern and simply fold it to the desired shape or orientation. Once in place, we can actually add resin back into the hinge lines to lock them into a new shape. This could be done on all of the hinge lines, or just some of them. The result is the possibility for a rigid box with a still flexible lid all made from the same piece of carbon fiber! Once again, these products would act like sheet metal parts, but at a fifth the weight and 3 times stronger!

Advanced Applications

The above manufacturing techniques open the doors to many new products. Thinking outside the box, we imagine using these techniques to make products as wild as DIY fold up bike frames. We could ship a flat panel of carbon fiber to you that has already been hinged and cut to shape with instructions as to where to fold, and where to resin. The end user could have a fully carbon fiber bike frame in a matter days for just a few hundred dollars.

Other advanced applications include custom molding of parts with undercut geometries. On a typical composite mold, the part cannot wrap around on itself and create negative geometry because you wouldn’t be able to remove it from the mold. In this scenario, a complex 3D mold would be machined and the composite part would be laid up on it. Once hardened, the part would traditionally not be able to be removed. Using our hinge technology, we could create hinge lines in the part while it is still on the mold using a laser. This hinge could then allow for the negative geometry to be released. Once removed this area could be re-resined to return to its original shape.

CF-Lex™ Future Technology Uses

These are just a few of the advanced applications for the hinge technology! We have a much longer list and after reading this, we hope you have a few ideas as well! Please reach out togabe@commonfibers.comif you have any questions, comments, or usage ideas!