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Carbon fiber’s light-weight composition and incredible strength help the composite excel in a huge variety of applications, including the aerospace, marine, and sporting goods industries. The same features that make carbon fiber useful in so many applications can make the material difficult to cut. The ultra-strong fibers require a hard blade; lightweight fabrics woven from carbon fiber twist easily; and lightweight dust can become airborne, wreaking havoc on nearby electronics due to its high electrical conductivity.

Small or startup facilities may be tempted to use everyday tools, such as tile cutters or jigsaws, to cut carbon fiber. However, these methods do not deliver the tight tolerances necessary in aerospace, civil engineering, and other industries that benefit from carbon fiber’s unique features. Because carbon fiber is an expensive raw material—even when compared to other composite materials such as glass fibers—precise cutting and reliable solutions become even more essential.

Methods for Carbon Fiber Cutting

Deciding how to cut carbon fiber at your facility depends largely on the quantity and quality your end product requires. For more information on the right cutting solution for your application, contact Eastman Machine’s application specialists. Our team is well-versed in cutting both dry and prepreg composites, including carbon fiber.

Manual Cutting

Organizations that cut small volumes of carbon fiber may be able to rely on manual cutting machines. Depending on the application, rotary shears, straight knives, or round knives may offer acceptable cuts at an economical price point.

Automated Cutting

Digital cutting machines offer the precise cuts, high speeds, and automated approach required by many facilities cutting carbon fiber. Automated cutting also offers businesses the ability to customize their cutting machines. For example, Eastman’s tool head can be outfitted with two or three tool spindles from our vast catalog of more than 60 blades, punches, and notches. Dry carbon fiber is often cut with a round knife in order to crush and break the fibers. A 10-sided blade offers strength and versatility for cutting multiaxial carbon fiber cloth. Our ultrasonic tool head, which operates at 20,000 oscillations per second, provides a fast, accurate cut while reducing gumming and friction when cutting adhesive-backed composites.

The high electrical conductivity of carbon fiber particles can impact the delicate electronics crucial to automated cutting. Eastman’s digital cutting solutions are engineered to excel in all types of production environments, from clean rooms to harsh or high-particulate environments. Each machine’s controls and operating computer are housed in individual cabinets utilizing positive air pressure to keep out carbon fiber dust. This protective technology keeps controls and computers safe from both dust and water in facilities cutting dry carbon fiber. Cabling connectors, servo motors, and display components also meet industry-standard international protection rating requirements.

Carbon Fiber Cutting Tips

1. Use the Right Blade

Carbon fibers are strong and abrasive, making cutting them a potential challenge. Choosing the correct cutting machine and the right blade for your application allows you to minimize expensive scrap. Blades designed to cut carbon fiber are often made of tungsten, carbide, diamond, and other exceptionally durable materials.

2. Avoid Common Issues

The difficulties associated with cutting strong, lightweight composites—including carbon fiber—are familiar to many businesses. In order to find the best carbon fiber cutting machine for your products, look for a system that addresses delamination, burring, and overheating.

3. Prepare for Carbon Fiber Dust

Dry carbon fiber produces dust when cut. This dust has the potential to damage electronics, irritate operators’ lungs, and combust. While each of these scenarios can be easily avoided, it requires proper preparation and the right equipment.