Where Strong and Lightweight Sporting Goods Require CFRP

By Todd Johnson, About.com Guide

Carbon fiber is an amazing material, even 40 years after it was first invented. Despite all the other wonder materials that modern technology has developed, carbon fiber is still the king and still the most widely used composite in aerospace. Its use has widened amazingly as its cost has come down and now we find it everywhere in our daily lives – not only flying with it, but walking on it every day. Yes, it is even in our footwear.

Strong and Light Carbon Fiber

Anywhere where high performance is required carbon fiber’s superior strength to weight ratio offers significant adCARBON FIBER NOSE PROTECTION MASKvantages, and sporting goods are no exception. It is used to replace or reduce metal, wood and steel content in a wide variety of sports applications.

Many sporting applications use glass reinforced plastic moldings (GRP), and carbon fibers are being use to replace the glass strands in GRP to make it ‘CFRP’ with significant weight savings resulting – examples range from fishing rods to gliders.

Carbon fiber has different properties than glass and so there is still a future for GRP, particularly where flex is desirable, like in composite surfboards. Other materials such as aramid (Kevlar a trademark of DuPont) composites will likely replace glass when their costs reduce further, but carbon fiber still beats even aramids in many applications, irrespective of budget.

In top end motor racing, where budgets allow for the best of materials, carbon fiber is dominant. There are many drivers alive today who wouldn’t be with us but for the material’s strength and damage tolerance. Whether it is NASCAR, IndyCar or Formula 1, high speed crash survivability has improved dramatically – as well as race performance,.

Design and Assembly Advantages of Carbon Fiber

These gains have been due not only carbon fiber’s inherent strength, but also to its nature. Carbon fibre threads, high performance epoxy resins and modern production machinery allow low-cost and automated computer controlled molding. Typical carbon fiber sporting goods examples are golf club shafts, tennis rackets and ice-hockey sticks.

Other techniques allow automated layup of carbon fibre cloth. In motor racing, a computer generated design for, say, a NASCAR airbox, can be automatically translated into reality, almost without human intervention. Techniques continue to improve as the versatility of carbon fiber composite is explored even further.

Cost versus performance

This has been a contentious issue in many sports, because the performance gains of carbon fiber can be so considerable, yet the costs so high, that the performance of sports persons and teams becomes an issue of budget – particularly at amateur level. So, sporting rules bodies tend to resist the introduction of carbon fiber, at first. As costs come down, then the rules are relaxed, and there are few sports these days where carbon fiber is still banned.

 

Carbon Fiber In Sports

 

Here are some of the sports applications in which carbon fiber is used:

  • Tennis Racquets
  • Running shoes
  • Bicycles
  • Golf clubs
  • Motor racing
  • Rowing shells
  • Sailboats
  • Gliders
  • Fishing rods
  • Surfboards
  • Ice hockey sticks
  • Arrows in archery
  • Cricket bats