In the world of composites, both glass and carbon fibre are well-established materials widely used. Fibreglass has always been used in boat building, structural components, and draining products. Meanwhile, carbon fibre has always been associated with speed and high performance used in race cars, passenger jets, and high-end engineered solutions. However, when it comes to 3D printing, both are considered high-quality fibres. The question is: which is better? We’ll explore this question and answer that in the following section.
Benefits of both glass and carbon fibre composites
One good reason to use these composite types is the versatility of fused filament fabrication (FFF) 3D printing. Using these materials on a compatible 3D printer produce high-strength parts that do the following:
- Validate geometries
- Optimize designs
- Reduce weight
- Consolidate assemblies
- Test prototypes that will be injection moulded
- Replace metal components
Difference between glass and carbon fibres
Choosing the right composite 3D printing material is key to the success of your application. Opting for either the right fibreglass or carbon fibre composite can determine the effectiveness of your 3D printing application. Below are the differences between the two composite types:
- Glass fibre: Glass fibres commenced in 1936. It is said that the invention of this material led to the partnership known today as Owens Corning. Glass fibre is produced by melting silica to remove impurities. The liquid glass is then extruded through a heated metal plate with small holes through a process called bushing. The glass strings are then cooled from around 1,200 °C with water and air. While being cooled off, they are stretched into thin fibre pulled onto a winder.
- Carbon fibre: Carbon fibre is an expensive material yet known for its rigidity and excellent strength. The manufacturing process of carbon fibre takes place at a molecular level. The material starts off as a liquid polyacrylonitrile precursor. The fibrous mix of carbon atoms is then oxidized at around 300 °C to stop fibres from melting together. It is then carbonized in an oxygen-free oven at temperatures of up to 1,000 °C. As a result, the atoms fuse and expel any impurities forming pure carbon atoms in very rigid strings. The carbon fibre strings then pass through a surface treatment bath to etch the surface of the carbon, making them more resilient and sticking to coating chemicals.
What to consider when choosing
Choosing the composite 3D printing material is all about getting what you pay for. Sure, composite materials from smaller filament companies may be more affordable, but choosing this might result in a lower-quality filament.
On the other side, leading manufacturers have decades of expertise in developing reinforced polymers. They produce their polymer matrixes from industrial-grade machines using the highest-quality fibres, coatings, and processes. This leads to a filament readily carrying the mechanical properties you need over to your 3D printed part.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to determining the right material for your application, whether it’s glass or carbon fibre composite. However, it all depends on the requirements of the application and the total cost of ownership for your 3D printing. By considering these requirements, you’ll decide which composite you need for your 3D printing.
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