Repairing Carbon Fiber Parts in Your Body Shop
Carbon fiber parts are extremely popular for a great number of reasons. For starters, they’re lightweight and highly versatile. This makes them superior options compared to traditional materials such as metal and its alloys. Many vehicle owners opt for carbon fiber parts when they’re considering customization, especially for high-end BMW and Chevrolet models.
Carbon fiber is manufactured by binding thin filaments of carbon with plastic polymer resins through the use of heating and pressure techniques, or running through a vacuum. The carbon fibers are tightly woven together to create its strong but lightweight properties.
The resultant composite material is commonly used by experts in the space and aeronautical industries for its unique properties, which offers high durability without being too heavy. These properties have made the material a favorite among race car enthusiasts, through improving fuel efficiency.
When manufactured with the appropriate resins, carbon fiber parts are corrosion-free, unlike metal alternatives. The challenge however, lies in setting up the perfect spot in your store for carbon repair works, as they require their own set of tools and environment.
Carbon Fiber Repair Essentials
Although carbon fiber is generally damage-resistant, there comes a time where owners need to perform routine repair work to keep their products running at a 100%. Some common damage include cracks and scratches, which can be easily fixed with the right tools.
Your body shop should be stocked with a specific inventory of tools and replacement parts at all times if you wish to accommodate carbon fiber repairs. These tools include:
- Safety Equipment – Although carbon isn’t toxic, it may irritate your eyes and skin. In serious cases, it may cause itching and breathing difficulties. You should always have goggles, dust masks and gloves (preferably leather for increased protection when dealing with drilling or cutting processes) on standby when handling carbon fiber. Also ensure that the carbon fiber repair area of your workshop is constantly well-ventilated to prevent dust particles being suspended in the air. It is essential to have some type of enclosed area in your Body Shop for carbon repair. Creating a Retractable Paint Booth Curtain is the simplest, most space efficient method.
- Quality Adhesives – As with all types of repairs, adhesive is a major component, especially with regard to carbon fiber panels. Always go for adhesives made from high-quality films, which are temperature-resistant and have a strong holding force.3.
- Paint Jobs – You should first establish if it is a first-time paint job or a refinishing to an existing coat. The first step for both is to wash and scrub the surface thoroughly with soapy water. For refinishing, always strip existing coats and work on it as you would a new job. Finish sand the surfaces ideally at about 320 / 400 grit. An epoxy primer should be used to seal the paint job.4.
- Specific Drilling & Cutting Tools – Regular steel tools (common power drills) are suitable for carbon fiber work, however, you should be careful when selecting drill bits. Carbon sheets can degrade and wear out steel bits easily, which calls for frequent replacement. Also, carbon fiber is an extremely strong material, which means that regular drill bits may shatter upon contact. Instead, opt for diamond encrusted or solid carbide drill bits. These are made to last and can be used to create multiple holes when properly maintained.
However, it is highly recommended that you install carbide/diamond encrusted drill components to a press rather than a hand drill to even out pressure distribution and avoid shattering, as they run at high rpm. The same rules apply for cutting processes. Although rotary tools such as the standard Dremel models should work, these can last much longer with diamond encrusted/coated blades. Alternatively, power angle grinders can be used to create steady straight lines in carbon fiber parts with little effort.
More On Carbon Fiber Repairs
Carbon fiber is a favorite among motorists. Unfortunately, the complex manufacturing processes involved in its production comes with a hefty price tag compared to more common materials such as steel. This is the main reason why carbon fiber is still seen as a luxury material and is most often linked to super cars and other pricier vehicles.
However, industrial experts are discussing ways to reduce the manufacturing costs of carbon fiber products in the near future.
Replacement Vs Repairs, How Do you Choose?
The best way to answer this is through assessing cost, time and function. Since carbon fiber is generally pricey, vehicle owners should consider if a repair is worth it. Sometimes, a complete replacement might be a better alternative. Will the particular component be painted over? Is the part visible after repairs? For example, the damage found on the hood of a car is highly visible and aesthetics go a long way so it really depends on the area that requires work.
Technicians might take days to complete a lamination, cutting and paint job compared to a quick replacement. These are some of the factors to consider and recommend to a customer when they’re torn between a replacement and repair work.
Other Considerations in Carbon Fiber Repairs
Although Carbon fibers are highly repairable, you should always consider the manufacturer’s recommendations (procedures and components) for each vehicle. The cosmetic parts of a car are the easiest to repair while functional structures are trickier and depend on the primary bond of the material. The primary bond is the unique mixture of resin and carbon during the manufacturing process. All repair work provides a secondary bond, which is closely based off the adhesive properties of the repair resins or adhesives.
Ultimately, adding a carbon fiber repair section to your body shop presents greater business opportunities in a niche market. After all, carbon fiber seems to have a bright future in the automobile industries and now might be the best time to get well-acquainted.
About the Author
I have been a copywriter and online content developer for over 2 years, working with a bunch of advertising agencies and media companies in delivering powerful branding campaigns. My past clients and I believe in profitability through the art of effective storytelling. Everybody has an interesting story to share, which can be monetized with the right strategy – we show them how.