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History and uses of carbon fibre

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The Modern Age demanded strong materials and when we needed strength, we looked not to plastics, but to metals. On their own, plastics were too weak, too bendy to make a car, or a plane. But plastics had one big advantage: they were light, an essential quality for speed and flight. So scientists set out on a quest to create plastics as strong as metals. In 1963, engineers at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough made a breakthrough: they managed to strengthen plastics so effectively it looked as though it might give metal a run for its money. This is carbon fibre. It's extremely strong, light, and stiff. Scientists found that when they combined it with plastic they created a new material that was much better than the sum of its parts. Some people called it "black plastic", but today we know it as carbon fibre composite. Here, a carbon fibre composite is being made from sheets that contain carbon fibres, and plastic. It's built up layer by layer on moulds that can take any shape you need. And then cooked in an oven, to make the plastic set hard. The end result is a material with a unique combination of properties: strong, stiff, and light. Ideal for making one of the fastest machines on the planet. Since the 1980s, Formula 1 teams stopped using metal for their car bodies, and changed to using carbon fibre composite, because of its winning combination of lightness, stiffness, and strength. Brian O' Rourke is the chief composites engineer for the Willams team, and was involved in building their first composite car in 1984. What we're looking at, is an awful lot of composite materials. How much of this is composite? Evertything that you can see from the outside, apart from the wheels and tyres. So, what, the whole of this is composite ..- Yeah. the whole gurney, suspension elements... This is about structural composite materials, we've been using these on F1 cars since 1981, in industry generally, and they replaced metallic materials that went before them. That's because carbon fibre composites can offer the benefit of metals, for a lot less weight. So to compare the two, Brian has set a simple experiment for me, with two beams. One steel, and one carbon fibre composite. One critical property is the stiffness how much give it has. I'm gonna test this by standing on them, to see how much they bend. If Formula One drivers have to do this test, am I treading on the toes of Schumacher, or... I think they won't be interested in it if it was gonna make the car go faster Stand right in the middle - Yeah.. it's taking my weight, it feels very safe, although...let's see how heavy this is... I can...I mean, I've been going down the gym, so I can... All right, let's try this one.. This is the composite. So this weighs a lot less. But, does that mean it will bend a lot more? Wow, so they've got the same stiffness, they're able to resist my weight. But this one is three and a bit times lighter. Yes, that's what's really the interest for us in this material, because it's providing the same stiffness as steel would, but for less than a third of the weight. So the carbon fibre composite is a great advantage over metallics. And there's another advantage that carbon fibre composites have over metals: In a crash, the front section of the car explodes into tiny fragments. Although this looks dramatic, this actually disperses the energy of the impact away from the driver. In contrast, the driver's cockpit is designed to be strong and rigid. Together, this means that the driver is protected as much as possible from the impact. It's made driving a formula one car far safer than it used to be. Until carbon fibre composites can be mass-produced, it'll stay in the hands of specialists. But where they can be used, they give huge advantages. Because of its light weight, carbon fibre composite isn't just being used by formula one racing teams. It's increasingly being used by the aerospace industry. The Boeing dreamliner is exactly half-composite and in the future, more and more aircrafts will essentially be made from plastic and carbon fibre.

Video Details

Duration: 5 minutes and 44 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Views: 425
Posted by: natalialzam on Jan 19, 2014

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