Could Carbon Fiber Dethrone Steel as King in Construction?

For more than a century, steel has been an essential ingredient for those wanting to build the sturdiest structures.

Though hefty and bulky to move around, and sometimes costly, steel has become a go-to item for builders wanting homes, commercial buildings and even bridges that will stand the test of time.

Could Carbon Fiber Dethrone Steel as King in Construction?

The Beginning of Steel’s Dominance

 Architects Journal tells us that massive bridges became the ultimate symbol of steel’s strength and versatility as early as the late 1880s, which led engineers to use the same principles but vertically in the framework for commercial buildings. Skyscrapers in Chicago and New York in the early 20th century went higher and higher and were also erected faster than previous building methods.   

This trend has to the present day. But steel may have met its match in a new material: carbon fiber.

Carbon Fiber as a Building Material

It’s lighter, thinner and easier to form a strong bond with other fibers. Yet it’s also strong, durable and can be molded into just about any material, from golf clubs to fishing poles.

One of carbon fiber’s advantages as a building material is that entire structures can be built with carbon fiber in days instead of weeks or months like a steel-frame or a steel building would take.

Because carbon fiber is so lightweight, it has the potential to revolutionize the building world. Carbon fiber buildings can be modified easily or even relocated just by switching out a few elements. In comparison, steel structures are much more permanent and difficult to adjust without major renovations.

What has even more potential for innovation is how carbon fiber materials can be created and incorporated into a building project. Rather than a contractor estimating what supplies will be needed and be ordering them from a building supply seller, an order can be placed for a specific amount and type of carbon fibers for whatever project is in the works.

Carbon Fiber Construction Methods

Inhabit News speculates that programmed robots can fulfill custom orders by ‘weaving together’ carbon fibers with resin, which will make their bond even stronger. Then wrap the fibers around something sturdy like metal to add even greater stability and support.

Depending on the scale of a particular project, different robots can focus on different tasks.

Others have speculated that a fleet of robots could be tasked with creating different aspects of a structure. Then, the different groups of robots could communicate among themselves how much of certain material is needed for a certain structure, and when to stop when enough of a certain component is created. It’s a true assembly line with different units crafting different components and then combining them together at the end.

But in this case, no humans would need to be directly involved in the crafting process or the final assembly, and the same item can be built over and over with variation.

Granted, the days of robots literally doing all the heavy lifting are sometime in the future, but the increasing usefulness of carbon fiber is closer to becoming a reality daily.

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