Carbon Fiber 101: Wet vs. Dry
GruppeM RAMair and SuperCleaner intakes, along with GruppeM AEROdynamics kits, are developed using the highest grade composites, primarily two versions of carbon fiber (CF) commonly referred to as “wet” or “dry” carbon fiber, both excellent and decidedly unequaled in strength to weight ratios. Both versions of this composite are utilized extensively for racing and high-performance parts. Several GruppeM designs have composite variations containing both carbon fiber and other fibers such as Kevlar for limited editions which are visually different even though the structure and form remain identical.
In both “wet” carbon fiber and “dry” carbon fiber applications, the carbon fiber weave pattern, alignment, density, layering, and mold form, is nearly identical, however the method in which the epoxy is introduced to the carbon fiber, and the process tolerances and process time in which the composite is manufactured is notably different, as is the resulting application finish and weight.
The Manufacturing Process
Several manufacturers of carbon fiber performance parts offer budget-oriented carbon fiber products that appear to be very similar to more expensive carbon fiber products from competing manufacturers. The similarities however are typically limited to general appearance. ”Carbon fiber” is a broadly used term similar to “alloy”. The types, manufacturing processes, materials, product costs, and design elements differentiate the quality of alloys, much like carbon fiber. While two seemingly similar carbon fiber parts have notably different price points, the quality of the finished product varies substantially.
GruppeM carbon fiber manufacturing processes are focused on producing the finest performance products utilizing original designs, complex time-consuming processes, and top-grade raw materials and graphite reinforced polymer epoxies to produce a finished product that improves performance, reduces weight, resists heat, fits perfectly, and looks flawless.
For example, while the outward appearance of two carbon fiber air intakes from two different manufacturers may appear similar, the strength of each product may differ substantially. Less expensive carbon fiber manufacturing processes use an external heat source or air to cure the carbon fiber shape which has been “painted” over the fiber weave, with a standard epoxy. In some cases, a single carbon fiber part may be constructed of more than one piece of carbon fiber weave and connected by epoxy and/or subsequent weaves (as this can often be less expensive and time consuming in the mold process).
The resulting part looks very similar to a high quality carbon fiber piece, however the strength, consistency, and density (even small air bubbles in the material will reduce strength) of the carbon fiber is not comparable to the more time and labor intensive single mold vacuum autoclave-cured manufacturing process of racing grade carbon fiber.
Wet Carbon Fiber
GruppeM RAMair and SuperCleaner intakes, along with GruppeM AEROdynamics kits, are manufactured utilizing the single mold vacuum infused and autoclave-cured process resulting in a finished product that appears to have a “wet”, glass-smooth, surface. The manufacturing process, graphite epoxies, and curing process, combine to produce this unique finish.
The carbon fiber weave is set in the mold, and graphite epoxies are applied under vacuum to push the epoxy through the fibers until the correct consistency and equally distributed expoxy over the entire surface of the piece is achieved. The piece is then cured, tested for accurate density throughout the form, and either accepted as accurate and complete, or discarded. This is often referred to as “infused” carbon fiber.
Another version of the “wet” carbon fiber manufacturing process, which is the most common, simpler and less expensive to manufacture (and typically not as consistent and slightly heavier), applies the epoxy onto the carbon fiber, without the vacuum technique which is the catalyst to the infusing the epoxy into the carbon fiber instead of on top of the carbon fiber, resulting in a less than ideal curing process. When comparing GruppeM wet carbon fiber components to “comparable” wet carbon fiber products, be sure to determine which method is utilized – wet “application” (or “painting”) without vacuum, or wet “infusion” with vacuum.
Dry Carbon Fiber
A limited number of GruppeM RAMair intakes, along with certain GruppeM AEROdynamics kits, are also available in “dry” carbon fiber. The limited production of dry carbon fiber, which appears “dry” on the surface when compared to “wet” carbon fiber, is due to the near zero-tolerance manufacturing process required for the ultimate carbon fiber composite which is equal in strength, and substantially lighter, than wet carbon fiber.
The manufacturing process to achieve an ideal dry carbon fiber performance product requires the carbon fiber weave to be “preimpregnated” with the ideal amount of graphite epoxy prior to the molding and curing processes. This differs from the wet carbon fiber process in which the epoxy is applied to the weave continually until the appropriate amount of surface area coverage and thickness is achieved to meet the strength and consistency requirements of the product design. The resulting product is so much lighter than wet carbon fiber because there is absolutely no excess epoxy, which accounts for the “dry” appearance of the finished dry carbon fiber component.
Besides the Process, What’s the Difference?
The bottom line differences are appearance, weight, and cost. For the visually driven, the appearance of wet vs. dry carbon fiber is a matter of personal taste. From a performance perspective, both share similar strength and rigidity, however the dry carbon fiber component will be nearly 70% lighter than the weight of the already considerably lighter wet carbon fiber (which is notably lighter than plastic composite or lightweight metals, utilized in stock components). That weight savings comes with an equally notable increase in cost due to the previously mentioned zero-tolerance manufacturing processes required for dry carbon fiber. In both cases, wet or dry, GruppeM carbon fiber components are designed and manufactured to achieve a finished product that represents the ultimate carbon fiber performance products without compromise.