The first industrial revolution was to a large extent about new chemical manufacturing and iron production processes. The third industrial revolution that we are living through now is also to some extent about innovative new materials.
Apple´s MacBook computers are made with a shell of aluminium, Sony VAIO notebooks are made with a shell of carbon fibre. When you hold a MacBook it is sturdy and feels solid. When you hold a carbon fibre notebook it is flexible and can bend slightly. Therein lies the secret to carbon fibres strength.
Carbon fibre is, exactly what it sounds like, fibre made of carbon. But, these fibres are only a base. Carbon fibre is a material consisting of very thin cords of carbon atoms. When bound together with plastic polymer resin a composite material is formed that is both strong and lightweight.
In fact, the material is five times stronger than steel. The strength of carbon fibre is in the weave. The more complex the weave, the more durable the composite will be. Carbon fibre material has a wide range of applications, as it can be formed at various densities in limitless shapes and sizes. Carbon fibre is often shaped into tubing, fabric, and cloth, and can be custom-formed into any number of composite parts and pieces. The material was invented in 1958 by Union Carbide corporation, a Dow Chemical company.
- Automobile components
- Bicycle frames, fishing rods, shoe soles
- Protective cases for laptops and phones
- Musical instruments
- Structural elements of buildings
- Wind turbine blades
However it remains an expensive material. Ten years ago, carbon fibre cost 150 times as much as steel. Now they cost ten times as much, and new production techniques will take this down to five times, as reported by The Economist in this article.
Not only are they stronger. Carbon fibre materials are also much lighter than traditional materials like aluminium and steel. For cars, for example, cutting a car’s weight makes a lot of sense. If an engine has less weight to haul around, it will use less energy. But reducing a car’s weight is not as easy as it sounds. Lighter cars still need to be safe and durable. Car manufacturers are responding to the challenge of making strong, safe, durable and lightweight cars through the use of materials like carbon fibre.
Now an engineering company in Finland have found a new, innovative use for carbon fibres.
KONE, founded in 1910 and headquartered in Espoo, Finland, is an international engineering and service company employing some 32,500 people globally. The firm is the fourth largest manufacturer of elevators in the world.
Making elevators is high technology, as especially high-rise elevator components operate under highly demanding conditions, making durability a huge challenge. The main challenge is the weight of the steel cable that pulls the elevator up. The taller the building, the longer and heavier the cable.
Elevators are also subject to severe strains such as building sway, which can put them out of service on windy days. There comes a point when existing solutions can be taken no further. For this reason, limitations in lift technology has been a limiting factor in how tall buildings can be made.
KONE´s new invention UltraRope based on carbon fibre is a completely new lifting technology that opens up a world of possibilities in high-rise building design. The innovation breaks industry limits and enables future elevator travel heights of a kilometre, twice the distance currently feasible.
According to KONE, the invention represents unprecedented eco-efficiency, durability and reliability in future elevator travel, and it will allow for buildings to rise much higher than today. According to an article in this weeks Economist, titled “The Other Mile High club”, we may soon see buildings up to a height of 1,6 kilometres, which is twice the height of Burj Khalifa in Dubai, today the worlds tallest building.