Carbon Fiber vs. Fiberglass Tubing: Which Is Better?
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Carbon Fiber vs. Fiberglass Tubing: Which Is Better?

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https://www.rockwestcomposites.com/round-tubing/round-carbon-fiber-tubing Customers routinely call Rock West to inquire about tubing materials. We tell them that we carry both carbon fiber and fiberglass tubing, then ask which material they prefer. Most already know what they want when they call, but how about you? Do you know the difference between carbon fiber and fiberglass? And do you know whether one is better than the other?

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Published 14 January 2018
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Language English
Carbon Fiber vs. Fiberglass Tubing: Which Is Better? Customers routinely call Rock West to inquire about tubing materials. We tell them that we carry both carbon fiber and fiberglass tubing, then ask which material they prefer. Most already know what they want when they call, but how about you? Do you know the difference betweencarbon fiberandfiberglass? And do you know whether one is better than the other?
Fiberglass is definitely the older of the two materials. Its Created by melting glass and extruding it under high pressure, then combining the resulting strands of materialwith an epoxy resinto create what is known as a fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP).
Carbon fiber consists of carbon atoms bound together in long chains. Thousands of fibers are then combined to form tow (aka strands of bundled fibers). These tows can be woven together to create a fabric or spread flat to create a ͞UŶidiƌeĐtioŶal͟ ŵateƌial. At this stage, it is combined with an epoxy resin to manufacture everything from tubing and flat plates to race cars and satellites.
It is interesting to note that raw fiberglass and carbon fiber demonstrate similar handling characteristics and can look similar too if you have a black-dyed fiberglass. It is not until after fabrication that you begin to see what separates the two materials: namely strength, stiffness and to a small extent weight (carbon fiber is slightly lighter than glass fiber). As to whether one is better than the other, the answer is 'no'. Both materials have their pros and cons depending on the application.
Stiffness Fiďeƌglass teŶds to ďe ŵoƌe fledžiďle thaŶ ĐaƌďoŶ fiďeƌ aŶd is aďout 15dž less edžpeŶsiǀe. Foƌ appliĐatioŶs that doŶ’t ƌeƋuiƌe maximum stiffnesslike storage tanks, building insulation, protective helmets, and body panelsfiberglass is the preferred material. Fiberglass is also frequently used in high volume applications where low unit cost is a priority.
Strength Carbon fiber truly shines with ƌespeĐt to its teŶsile stƌeŶgth. As ƌaǁ fiďeƌ it’s oŶlLJ slightlLJ stƌoŶgeƌ thaŶ fiďeƌglass, ďut becomes incredibly strong when combined with the right epoxy resins. In fact, carbon fiber is stronger than many metals when fabricated the right way. This is why manufacturers of everything from airplanes to boats are embracing carbon fiber over metal and fiberglass alternatives. Carbon fiber allows for greater tensile strength at a lower weight.
Durability Where durability is defined as 'toughness', fiberglass comes out the clear winner. Though all thermoplastic materials are comparably tough, the ability of fiberglass to stand up to greater punishment is directly related to its flexibility. Carbon fiber is certainly more rigid than fiberglass, but that rigidity also means it is not as durable.
Pricing The markets for both carbon fiber and fiberglass tubing and sheets have grown dramatically over the years. With that said, fiberglass materials are used in a much broader range of applications, the result being that more fiberglass is manufactured and prices are lower.
Adding to the price difference is the reality that manufacturing carbon fibers is a difficult and time-consuming process. In contrast, extruding melted glass to form fiberglass is comparably easy. As with anything else, the more difficult process is the more expensive one.
At the end of the day, fiberglass tubing is neither better nor worse than its carbon fiber alternative. Both products have applications for which they are superior, its all about finding the right material for your needs. Here at Rock West we pride ourselves in maintaining an extensive inventory of composites to meet the needs of each and every customer.