Carbon Fiber Finishing Techniques for a ‘Class A Finish’

This is part 2 of a 2 part series. To learn more about BASF's insight and expertise on carbon fiber material use, please read the following blog post: Carbon Fiber Composites - Ready for a Mainstream Debut.

Carbon fiber has a very distinct look - industrial, textured, charcoal gray.

And while some companies are experimenting with an exposed carbon fiber matte look, coating the material still plagues automakers and suppliers - especially as we try to achieve the 'Class A Finish' that is expected on a shiny new car.

While not impossible, since some luxury brands are able to achieve it, a 'Class A Finish' takes time - time that mainstream brands with larger production runs just can't sacrifice. But with CAFE standards looming, we are striving to find the right solution to make carbon fiber coating more efficient and plausible.

It is like trying to pave a roadway in the middle of an earthquake.

The main challenge to coating carbon fiber is the texture of the material; it forms grooves that make a smooth, sleek finish difficult to accomplish.

Plus, many automakers choose to use continuous fiber (the best stiffness to weight ratio) and resin transfer molding (the lowest cycle process time), which are the most difficult to work with when applying paint over carbon fiber.

But what's most intriguing, and simultaneously complicated, is that it's unlike any other fiber materials we've dealt with. As I say to the team, it's not just the deep grooves - we know how to deal with those. It's that the depth of the grooves varies as the temperature changes. It is like trying to pave a roadway in the middle of an earthquake.

Please click on an image to enlarge.

Using a lower bake could alleviate some of these issues but then we have to be conscious of other coatings aspects that may change as a result. To us, it's all about finding the right carbon fiber coating product and process that meets the automakers' needs in the long run.

One thing is for certain: the best way to find a solution is for coatings experts and substrate engineers to be closely aligned when identifying the carbon fiber composite to ensure the right coating process for a Class A Finish.

About the Author: Don Campbell is the Group Leader for OEM Coatings Development in North America. Don graduated from the Chemistry Department at Wayne State University in Detroit in 1984.  After graduation, Don joined BASF's Automotive OEM Coatings Division, where he has worked for more than 30 years. During this time, Don has worked on high solids basecoats, waterborne basecoats, clearcoats, primers and resin synthesis. Don has authored more than 30 patents and several publications in the area of Automotive Coatings.