New Carbon Fiber Looms Making Complex Parts More Attainable

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Carbon fiber continues to press into the firearms market. Its combination of durability, strength, and lightweight are appealing to firearms manufacturers and shooters alike. However (and speaking as a manufacturer myself), it is a royal pain in the ass to manufacture and machine (it causes small fibers to particularize which can ruin most standard CNC machines without appropriate filters, vacuums, etc.)

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NASA is stepping up to the plate with new looms capable of creating complex shapes out of carbon fiber. Complex shapes normally are very difficult to manufacture due to the way carbon fiber is layered onto a base mold. The shapes make it difficult for hand-weaving as humans cannot hold enough tension on the fiber without causing folds/wrinkles in the layers.

While it will take a few years, this kind of technology will filter down into making carbon fiber stocks, handguards, and other complex shapes such as grips. In fact, I would postulate carbon fiber will be common to see on firearms in another decade or so without a premium price tag.

For now, gawk at what NASA has created to handle complex shapes.



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • John

    These are called cnc tape laying machines not a loom, they’ve been in use by aerospace industry for quite some time, and build most all of their composite parts

  • Machinegunnertim

    One of the very few automated composite layup processes here.
    Proof research need to get on the ball and figure out how to lower prices.

  • Herky-Bird

    Too funny, the future has already arrived. Electroimpact has installed a bunch of these at Boeing for the 777x program. Although, I still prefer to work with metals.

  • Michael R. Zupcak

    I’d much rather see effort put into “forged composite” which is this stuff Lamborghini and Callaway Golf invented together. It’s basically epoxy with flakes of binder in it that goes into a high pressure mold and is heated. It’s molded like plastic, but under pressure, instead of being woven like carbon fiber. It will ultimately be way cheaper to manufacture parts with forged composite than with CF.

    • Paul J

      What you described is composite polymer injection molding. You can use in it pellet with : glass fiber, carbon fiber, or many other fiber, even organic ones.
      What Lamborghini call composite “forging” is, from what I understand, compression molding.

  • micmac80

    Nothing that could useful for firearms industry.

    • Southpaw89

      I think it could be very useful, carbon fiber stocks, grips, even receivers could be made in this manner. Composites like CF are strong and lightweight, both very desirable for firearms.

      • Swarf

        The potential problem I see with this is that you wear away the outer layer of resin and expose a patch of the fibers. Then you’ve got a cheek full of micro-splinters.

        • Southpaw89

          Skin is softer than the composite resin, therefore you wont wear away the resin just by handling the rifle, the only way your going to get splintering is through mechanical damage such as a cut, severe abrasion from rocks or metal, or being bent to the point of breaking. The only true enemy of composites is UV radiation that can cause the resin to break down exposing splinters, but proper care and a coat of paint or clear coat can prevent that. Composites are already being used successfully in rifle stocks, they just tend to be very costly, and if it were so vulnerable it would not be used so frequently in both the maritime and aviation industries.

          • Swarf

            skin is softer than the composite resin

            Water is softer than the rocks in the river, too, but eventually…

          • Southpaw89

            But eventually water tumbles small rocks against larger rocks eroding both, carries sand over boulders slowly eating them away, and even dissolves minerals in the rocks themselves weathering and weakening them, making them more prone to erosion.

        • Machinegunnertim

          You would need to take a belt sander to the C.F. to accomplish that. I have been wearing a C.F. ring for years and it shows no sign of wear, not even scratches and I wear it all the time.

          If you see marks or scratches on carbon fiber it’s probably because someone finished it with 30 layers of soft urethane clear coat to make it look extra glossy.

    • Paul J

      A similar method is already in use in the industry, the only difference is that they wrap the resin embedded fiber around a polystyrene core.

    • Swarf

      You seem pretty sure of yourself, micmac

      • micmac80

        20 or so years of CF fabrication experience .

        These machines are made to fabricate large but relatively simple parts with exacting layups and fibre orientations for least amount of weight ,no single firearm related part needs that.

        • The Brigadier

          You all are still thinking of perfuming the pig much like the auto industry is doing with direct injection gas motors and six plate automatic transmissions. Guns, cars and everything are going to be nothing like we have now at least as far as their bodies and drive trains go. We have the technology now to make fuel-less electric cars with lightweight shiftless transmissions. The same thing with guns will come about sooner than later. There are economic forces in the world resistant to change, but change always comes whether they like it or not. You all will like these changes. Think differently and you will see how the problems you are discussing are all old technology.

          We are only five years away from anti-grav folks. The Air Force made another breakthrough about seven years ago and they are very, very close to a final working system. An astronaut/engineer named Ross is working on making the Alcubierre warp drive engine a reality and he has solved two of the “impossible” problems already. Only one more to go and he thinks he has the solution. The anti-grav system might make the warp drive obsolete before its even built. Another astronaut/engineer has a working nuclear powered impulse engine that will take us to Mars in two weeks rather than six months.

          Embrace the new technologies and think way outside of your boxes. New rifles will be relatively easy to revolutionize and forget about expanding gases and bolts to move cartridges and spent cases. They won’t exist anymore except as a curiosity technology.

  • UpChuck.Liberals

    According to a friend in the 3d Printing racket, you are about to see a HUGE increase in cheap 3d printers and materials, which will be way cool, strong and inexpensive.

    • iksnilol

      It grows exponentially, like computer power? At least that’s what I presume.

      • UpChuck.Liberals

        According to my friend, it has to do with patents running out. The patent holders have been holding back the advance of machines and materials, that’s about to change. High tensile strength materials, high heat resistance, good times to be had by all and a future nightmare for the Lefties.

        • iksnilol

          Seems nice, so I should wait with building a 3d printer? Not a problem for me, I’ve got other things to spend money on at the time.

          What programs would you recommend for designing stuff in 3d that I’d later could print or CNC machine?

      • The Brigadier

        The material science knowledge is doubling every four months. The answer you are looking for might have already been discovered and awaiting a sponsor to develop it.

    • Cornelius Carroll

      I was told the same thing recently as well. Strength is set to go up in non-temperature sensitive applications and cost and print time are set to go down… along with initial purchase price.

  • Nicks87

    In a perfect world everything would be made out of titanium alloy and carbon fiber.

    • Swarf

      My underwear disagree.

      • iksnilol

        In a perfect world, you wouldn’t wear underwear.

        • UpChuck.Liberals

          We’d all be wearing Kilts.

          • iksnilol

            It would be a beautifull world, laddie.

            *wipes away single tear*

    • go4it

      “Avatar” bodies ….. ?

    • The Brigadier

      We are going beyond simple carbon fiber. Beta titanium is a marvelous metal and new forms of aluminum are still being developed so the new 7150 is not the end of that testing. The material sciences are now doubling their knowledge every four months and we have been doing this for the last five years. There is so much wonder stuff being developed that it is hard to keep up with all of it.

  • Paul J

    Impressive, and more than that it seems that are weaving glass fiber.

  • Swarf

    it causes small fibers to particularize which can ruin most standard CNC machines

    … and your lungs, I assume, since that’s essentially what makes asbestos so dangerous.

    • UpChuck.Liberals

      Having worked at a company that developed the use of carbon fibers for the use in centrifuge rotor buckets there was no ‘dust’ in the air.

      • Swarf

        Good to know, thanks.

        • UpChuck.Liberals

          Just as an fyi, I worked with a LOT of Tungsten Carbide and Cobalt, grinding the stuff, generally with inadequate dust control for a LOT of years, I had an x-ray towards the end of my career and the only thing in my lungs was a normal buildup of environmental particulate. Again YMMV. Not to say that one shouldn’t take some precautions.

      • go4it

        Absolutely correct! What minuscule “fibers” may free themselves from the CF strands on the winding process are *immediately* captured by “negative pressure” exhaust ducting – into HEPA or <1 micron filters. Result? ZERO "dust".

        Not. A. Speck!

        These NASA-developed carbon fiber laboratories are on the same scale of cleanliness as electronic "wafer" manufacturing facilities … which are likely more "clean" than the average hospital operating room …

        • UpChuck.Liberals

          When I said no ‘dust’ I meant no dust. There was no ‘dust’ collection. I’m not seeing any form of dust collection from the provided image either.

          • go4it

            The entire room is under “negative pressure”. The carbon fiber “dust” is microscopic and extremely lightweight. It is drawn into collectors that resemble HVAC ducting …

          • UpChuck.Liberals

            Yes, I understand the principle, what I was referring to was where I worked was nothing special, no multi-million dollar environmental unit, And no dust.

    • Dan

      Yes they are and I was once paid very well for partaking in that racket. We worked strictly Federal contracts and the amount we were paid was ridiculous.

    • The Brigadier

      There are 56 forms of asbestos and three are dangerous because they have hooks at the end of their fibers that uncannily look like fish hooks. its these fish hooks asbestos fibers that permanently hook onto our lung tissues and then become encysted diminishing capacity. The other 53 forms of the stuff can be encased by mucous and then coughed up like plant fibers. Unfortunately its the three bad forms that make the best fire blocking prevention because the fibers lock together so tightly. Material science will score a major coup when it can make a decent fire blocking sheet from one or more of the non-fish hook asbestos forms.

  • iksnilol

    I wonder if it’d be possible to make a functioning receiver out of CF? Having an AK with a 2mm carbon fiber receiver would be cool and presumably lightweight.

    With the right technology, would it be possible to build the bolt as well? Or is that wishfull thinking? Was thinking something low pressure like .45 ACP, something like a modern grease gun, only much lighter.

    I mean, stocks and furniture is nice. But the heavy components in firearms are the barrel, receiver and bolt+carrier. Barrels are already taken care of with alu or CF wrapped barrels, but the rest? That hasn’t been done yet.

    • Cornelius Carroll

      In something like the bolt you need strength across a range of temperatures, abrasion resistance, and a low-friction surface. I *think* there are resins for CF that could handle the temperature part but I’m not so sure about abrasion resistance and coefficient of friction. Pretty tough to beat metals in that application.

      • iksnilol

        I know, metals are friggin awesome. Maybe some sort of hybrid? As in make the bolt out of CF then make the contact surfaces out of steel or something. As in, only the parts that will be in contact the cartridge and whatnot will be of metal. Could that work?

        • UpChuck.Liberals

          You need some mass for the bolt or you have to change gas tubes and springs and buffers.

          • iksnilol

            Adjustable gas block should work.

    • BlackTalon2000

      You don’t want it to be too light, recoil will get worse. Receiver can be plastic, but barrel bolt and carrier should remain steel.

      • iksnilol

        Eh, one can deal with the recoil. Adjustable gas blocks, suppressors and of course recoil pads work well to reduce the recoil.

        Besides, carbon fiber isn’t plastic. It is way better (stronger than steel).

        Barrel has to remain steel, but it can be a steel barrel lining in a CF or aluminum shell.

      • The Brigadier

        Rifle sized rail gun rifles will be perfected soon and projectiles will travel five klicks a second like bigger rail guns can now fire. Recoil will be minimal and the darts will have to have at least have a cover of steel to make it work. The rest of the gun has to be made out of ultra lightweight carbon composites as the copper coils in the electromagnets are going to weigh a lot. Weaponry is going to fundamentally change in the next few years and you can hang up your assault and battle rifles next to your heirloom swords. The new stuff will be so fantastic you won’t hesitate doing it.

    • The Brigadier

      The bolt as well as the chamber experiences high heat and the polymers like urethane are very heat sensitive. Wait long enough that problem will be solved by some new lightweight and economical to make material or some new process for binding carbon fibers and tubes without polymers.

  • BlackTalon2000

    Plastic is good enough, look at Glock and Magpul, even AR-15 uppers are plastic now, and the commies used plastic magazines for decades. Glass and carbon fiber is more trouble than they are worth.

  • Hyok Kim

    Carbon fiber weakens with prolonged exposure to sunlight, and they fail spectacularly without much warning.

    • The Brigadier

      That is due to the urethane that holds the fiber together. A fifty/fifty mixture of poly urethane and poly urea along with UV inhibitors and colorants like ultra white titanium dioxide inhibit UV degradation substantially and also make the carbon fiber much stronger. Lets see what these combination of polymers and graphene will do. That technology is about to explode on the world and it will transform everything.

  • The Brigadier

    Here’s an advanced tech notice. A grad student chemist at UTEP in West Texas figured out to make graphene from used oil. An ounce of graphene currently costs around $200 an ounce to manufacture from graphite. The used oil process reduces the cost of an ounce of graphene to around 12 cents.

    Graphene has been tested and its 22 1/2 times stronger than the best tool steel, and it weighs much the same as carbon fiber. Graphene is a six-sided, 1mm high carbon tube and sheets of the cubes can be grown to interlock together. Thicker sheets can be made by using double sided film to connect the sheets together. DARPA is already constructing and testing new body armor for our troops that will weigh around ten pounds and completely encase our troops. For a time our troops will be nearly invincible in infantry combat, and so will our tanks, jet fighters, ships etcetera. I hope we take advantage of this amazing new material. Taking out ISIS and then N. Korea and Iran will be a good first start. While carbon fiber is light and strong, it is now old technology. The new material is graphene and graphene frames, stocks, fore ends, handles etc. will be a welcome addition to firearms. Maybe even bullets ‘swaged’ (grown formed) with graphene will be achievable.

  • The Brigadier

    The problem with kilts is cold balls laddie. Especially when the wind blows.

    • go4it

      Maybe you didn’t notice my avatar photo ……..

      I’ve worn the kilt as far north as John O’Groats …..