Motorola Hi-Fi in fiber glass - The carbon fiber of 1957.

This Motorola ad seems very thrilled with itself about their record player, which is made out of the "tough, light, miracle material" fiberglass. Bet you didn't know fiberglass was so fancy, did you?

The way Motorola talks about fiberglass - or, if you're a British person, "glass fibre" - in 1957, it sounds an awful lot like the way engineers get all breathless talking about carbon fiber now - or, if you're a British person, "fibrous carbon".

For the uninitiated, carbon fiber is a still-expensive material that consists of a woven carbon fabric held in a rigid layer of (usually) epoxy resin or, if you're from anywhere in the world, "glue". It's crazy light and insanely strong, and fantastically expensive - or, if you're a British person "expensive fantastically". For any car or bicycle component, if there is a version of it made from carbon fiber, add another zero to the price tag.

Fiberglass and carbon fiber. Fiberglass can also be found with the glass organized into a woven pattern, but
this is how you mostly find it - just scattered and loose.

Fiberglass is pretty much the same thing, except instead of nanometer-thin carbon fibers, you have much thicker strands of glass. For it's day, fiberglass was indeed a high-tech miracle material just as carbon fiber is today. Anything made from either CF or fiberglass can be really light and strong, and because every part must be made from what basically amounts to fabric and glue, you can make it in almost any shape you want.

In the case of this "hi-fi" record player, the product is light and durable, and the lid can be shaped to help project the sound of the speakers, like a bullhorn. And, true to form, this record player was pretty steep. "As low as $79.95" means $656 in today's money... for a record player.

Of course, fiberglass is nothing big now. Almost every carnival ride (or "ride carnivale") has whimsical pretend cars made from fiberglass. When will CF trickle down to the fly-by-night carnival level? Who knows, but it will mean that we'll gradually see it in a lot more consumer products than we do now, and at more reasonable prices. Already, an ordinary mortal can own a carbon fiber bicycle frame when, at one point, it was strictly aerospace firms that could realistically work with the stuff.

Here's a video showing how they make an entire car from carbon fiber at Koenigsegg.

Fiberglass and CF also share certain health issues. Fiberglass, as you may know, can be a pretty serious skin irritant. You need to handle it with gloves, because the fibers are tiny enough to get embedded in your skin where they itch like mad and don't want to come out. That generally won't kill you, but carbon fiber presents a little more danger. Because the carbon strands (carbon nanotubes or "tubes nanocarbon") are so tiny, they can be inhaled if they become airborne - usually while cutting or sanding carbon fiber panels or parts. When inhaled, the fibers get into the lungs and tend not to come out. There, they can irritate the tissues of your lungs and generally act just like asbestos. The whole problem  is that fibers as small as asbestos and carbon nanotubes aren't really something your lungs evolved to deal with. So, we have no natural mechanism to cough them out, once they get in. Inflammation then goes crazy and basically becomes lung cancer.

Here's an article all about it from the CDC, to brighten up your Monday morning.

Carbon fiber is new enough that the risks are still being assessed and legislation will eventually move at it's traditional glacial pace to put in place controls and safeguards for CF production facilities. As for the end user, if you own stuff made from carbon fiber, try not to cut it or sand it without your own private hurricane in your workshop to blow the particles away from your face and keep your from inhaling the invisible fibers and dying from mesothelioma in thirty years.

So, the key takeaway is, ride your bike. Don't inhale it.

Note: The Phil Are GO! Images and Scanning them team apologizes for the sub-par quality of today's picture. The printing ran deep into the binding and Esquire is a thick magazine with a strong back. Due to our "do no harm catch-and-release" policy on magazine image capture, they did their best to capture the image without destroying the magazine. This is part of our commitment to guarding our nation's hilarious old magazines, a non-renewable resource. Also something about heritage or whatever.

Click for big.


Post a Comment