Carbon fiber is a relatively new material to robotics. However, it has already become a very important material, making new robots possible that were not possible before.
Because the fibers are aligned, carbon fiber has different strength amounts - depending on the direction that force is applied at. For example, rope is very strong if you pull, but very weak if you push. Carbon fiber is very strong in both compression and tension, but is much weaker in bending (force from the side). It is like trying to break a stick - breaking it at the center is much easier than by pulling it from the sides. So when using carbon fiber, make sure all force is only applied longitudinally.
Other Applications for Carbon Fiber
Carbon fiber has other useful properties as well. Since it is non-metallic, it can be used in applications where metal would interfere with sensors. Medical MRI's (magnetic resonance imaging) machines use very strong magnetic fields, preventing things like surgery robots to be used inside of them. But if you make the robot out of something non-magnetic, such as carbon fiber, that would no longer be a problem. Carbon fiber is already used to make backing boards to tie patients down for things like CAT scans and X-Rays. Why? CAT scan machines detect radiation emission from a radioactive isotope injected in to you. X-Ray machines detect radiation reflected back from you. Metal however attenuates (blocks) radiation, making the sensors useless. Why do you think Superman can't see through lead?
Working with Carbon Fiber
A pair of fine cutting snips for cutting is also highly recommended. These are good for cleaning up a saw cut that has a few remaining fibers that escaped your wrath. For the very thin rectangular carbon fiber, snips can be used instead of a jewelers' saw. Again, make sure this tool is extremely sharp.
For drilling you can use normal drill bits. But if you just drill straight out without first preparing the carbon fiber you will quickly notice splintering and breaking at the drill point. I have tried taping over the area I want to drill to get reasonable results. But you probably also want to paint the area over with a plastic buffer (made from a cheap plastic putty) or soaking the area over in superglue (the running type that can soak in between the fibers) to prevent damage from the drill chuck.
Make sure your drill bit is really sharp (new bits or diamond tipped bits work best) because any roughness will pull at the fibers instead of cutting - hence causing damage. Make sure you drill slowly. After drilling, you want to file away any splintering with fine grain sandpaper and/or scotchbrite. Then coat the finished area with a layer of superglue and let dry. The superglue will hold the loose fibers together and prevent any future damage. Use this method of filing and glueing for when you cut/saw carbon fiber too.
Attaching Carbon Fiber
'Molding' with carbon fiber is somewhat complicated, and since I have never done it myself, I wont go into much detail. But basically you buy a bunch of paper thin sheets of it and glue it all together over a mold to become this cool looking custom shaped shell. You will have to do temperature control and layering and all this other complex stuff. Will probably make an interesting alternative to the advantages of vacuum forming if you are willing to attempt it.
Apparently some people are even allergic to some degree and get skin reactions from it. "It's a skin reaction that looks like a really bad sun burn and itches like a mother." If you plan to saw or drill carbon fiber, expect copious amounts of fine particles to become airborne.
Now protection for carbon fiber should be obvious for you. Above anything else you want a basic $1 face mask for breathing. Probably you want to do this outside with air flow as well. This has been sufficient for me to work with it. But if you require more, like if you are allergic to it, then eye protection goggles, and even a Tyvek suit (such as for HAZMAT stuff, shown in the above image) will work.
Additional Carbon Fiber Notes
Carbon fiber tape looks neat, but I just have not found a use for it yet. Maybe for wings?
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