Aramid fiber and carbon fiber are among the strongest synthetic fibers in development. To the untrained eye, the two may not appear very different. You've likely encountered both of them before even if you were unaware. Aramid fiber is most well known for its role in Kevlar. It also sees extensive use in the aerospace and marine industries due to its strong chemical and heat resistance.
Carbon fiber is slightly more common on a commercial scale, though aramid fibers are definitely on the rise. Carbon fiber products are used for everything from high-end watch cases to luxury automobile parts. It shares many similarities with aramid fiber in terms of strength, heat resistance, and other desirable properties.
Even with so many similarities, it is still important to understand the differences between these two fibers. If you're going to decide between a product made from these materials it's good to know their differences so that you can make a more informed decision. Let's take a very brief look at what these two synthetic fibers actually are and what separates them from one another.
Sometimes referred to as graphite fiber, a single carbon fiber is around 5 micrometers in diameter. In that small space are a number of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a parallel fashion along the long axis. The carbon atoms are bonded in crystals and their alignment is what gives them such incredible properties. It takes several thousand fibers to create what is known as a tow. That tow is then woven into a durable fabric for a number of applications.
There are certainly additional steps required for specific applications. For example, the fibers may be combined with a plastic resin and baked to create many of the carbon fiber shells that are used to protect phones, watches, and other items. Regardless of what is combined with the carbon fiber, it's important that the strength-to-weight ration remains extremely high and that none of the desirable properties of the fiber are lost.
Aramid fiber is slightly more complex. However, one of the main properties responsible for the strength of these fibers is the alignment of the molecules along the fiber's axis. This is very similar to how carbon fiber maintains it's strength-to-weight ratio. In addition to incredible strength, the fiber also maintains a strong resistance to heat and chemicals.
As mentioned, there are some noticeable differences between the two fibers. Those differences may seem small and unimportant in many applications, yet become more serious depending on how the fibers are used. Here are some of the key differences according to the fiber's application.
Both synthetic fibers see extensive use in the aerospace industry. The same goes for luxury automobiles, military equipment, and essentially any industry where you want to protect sensitive components from high pressure, high heat, or dangerous chemicals. The most common use for these fibers in the aerospace industry is to reinforce the plastics used to create the various components.
One of the first differences between the two is the shaping and cutting process. Aramid fibers are more easily cut with C02 lasers with extreme precision and repeatability. It also results in less wear-and-tear on the laser.
The negative thermal expansion of the fibers is very similar to that of carbon fibers. However, there is somewhat lower compressive resistance alongside a higher impact resistance. This wouldn't produce a noticeable difference in most applications, but it's very important when producing safety shields and cowls for powerful engines.
The luxury applications of these materials often involves creating cases for phones, watches, and other personal items. And while it may be considered a luxury, it is still a smart investment. You simply won't find a more durable phone case than one made from Aramid or carbon fibers. But once again, there are some minor differences between the two that will impact the final product.
The biggest difference in this regard is the rigidity of the material. Carbon fiber has a very high compressive resistance while Aramid fiber does not. This leads to a greater strength against compressive forces, but it does not mean the fibers are “tougher”. The carbon fibers become very brittle and are more susceptible to certain types of damage. Aramid fiber cases, on the other hand, are slightly tougher and much more flexible.
Another big difference is the electrical conductivity of the material. Carbon fiber is a conductive material. This is problematic for phone cases because if the case touches the antenna it will severely impact the signal. In the past, it was never a good idea to use a carbon fiber phone case.
Luckily, we've found ways to work around this with carbon fiber cases. Each luxury case is designed for a specific model of phone. Knowing where the antenna is on the phone allows us to design the case in a way that does not interfere with the phone's signal.
Aramid fiber is not an electrically conductive material. This makes it slightly easier to design a phone case that can work with different model phones. Overall, an aramid fiber phone case will be scratch-resistant, heat resistant, flexible, and more lightweight than a carbon fiber case. Aside from these slight differences, both materials make equally excellent phone cases that are exponentially better than any alternatives on the market today.
A lot of great products are reinforced with either aramid or carbon fiber. And honestly, at the end of the day, they work equally well in most situations. But if you're involved with the aerospace industry or working with very specific parts of a luxury automobile, then the differences are important to note. Components that are more likely to suffer a high-force impact would benefit more from aramid fiber. Components that need increased compressive strength should rely on carbon fiber.
When it comes to smaller applications like phone cases it is a matter of preference. We carry luxury cases designed from both types of fibers and both are guaranteed to protect your phone for many years to come.
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