Process brings colour to carbon

Carbon fibre has taken a leaf out of Henry Ford's book. You can have it in any colour you like, as long as it is black. By its very nature, carbon is black, and consequently as nice as any lacquered finish might look, if you want it in any other colour you have to resort to painting over the surface.

This has many disadvantages. First it adds weight, for aircraft that can be over 500kg and for a car it might only be a few kg, but it all counts. In addition, the performance and cost premium associated with carbon fibre is essentially hidden.

So it is perhaps unsurprising there have been a number of different moves around the materials industry to colourise the fibres. One example comes from motor racing guru's Prodrive that has successfully expanded its composite capability and business for several years now.

It is now able to offer a range of deep-lustre colours in its composite materials to give designers in a number of colours that have a deep, glass-like finish with the same durability as is normally required from composite materials.

The new process is the result of a six month, in-house development programme. "We've validated the technique with samples in really gorgeous, deep shades of maroon and British Racing Green under a glass-like lacquer," said Ian Handscombe, composites manager at Prodrive. "It's a substantial step beyond conventional carbon trim finishes, offering something very special for exclusive vehicle options and other luxury products."

It hints that the coloured variants will come at a premium on top of the already relative expense of carbon fibre composite structures. Given that it is a new offering, it is likely to be restricted only to the likes of high end sports cars, motorsport or other high value sectors for the time being. However, it does give a tantalising glimpse of the future possibility of the material and that colour is on its way for carbon fibre.

The manufacturing process is proprietary and combines the very high levels of skill that Prodrive's composite capability has built up in recent years. It's rapidly growing composites manufacturing operation is now one of the largest in the UK.

Its colour composites are chip resistant, UV stable and highly consistent in both colour and finish. The first application is expected to be for a European manufacturer of luxury cars, with marine and aviation applications set up to possibly follow.

Justin Cunningham

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