Carbon fiber is a common type of fiber used in the composites industry. It is known for its strength, low weight and for its nice look. It is often used in the automobile, sporting goods and aerospace industry. A yard of carbon fiber fabric has millions of microscopic filaments all bundled together. For example, in a 3k fiber fabric, each tow (or bundle) of fiber has 3000 filaments in it. The bundles are woven together to form a fabric. This is why it is so strong. Each filament carries part of the load.
Inherently, by weight, carbon is much stronger than steel. It still has its limitations, though. Carbon fiber is brittle. If a piece of steel is hit by a large rock, it will bend. If a piece of carbon fiber laminate is hit with a large rock, it will most likely shatter and break. Despite this, there are many instances where carbon fiber is more appropriate to use than metal.
In the sporting goods industry, hockey sticks were first made of wood. They were great sticks and inexpensive. They felt good in your hands. In the 1980’s, aluminum hockey shafts with wood blades were developed. They were strong and lasted longer than the wood, but they didn’t feel great in your hands. (Wayne Gretzky still used it, though.) In the 90’s, carbon fiber hockey shafts were introduced with a separate carbon fiber or Kevlar hockey blade. Many people liked these. They were light weight and durable, but still lacked the feel of a one-piece wood stick. In the 2000’s the one-piece carbon fiber hockey sticks started coming out. People had the feel of the one-piece wood stick, but the all carbon stick was extremely responsive, light and strong. It now dominates the NHL. The only disadvantage is that they are much more expensive than a wood hockey stick.
In cars, carbon fiber fabric is used to make parts such as hoods or dashboards. Usually, the carbon fiber is used only for its good looks. It doesn’t add strength or durability. It looks great, though, especially when it has a glossy clear coat on top of it.