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issue: October 2002 APPLIANCE Magazine

Engineering: Carbon Fiber
Carbon Fiber Electrical Connectors

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Xerox Corporation developed a way to make carbon fiber into connectors that can conduct electricity just like a traditional metal connector, but are said to be more reliable, less costly to produce, and able to withstand harsh environments.

The technology, called CarbonConXâ„¢, was designed to replace metal electrical connectors used in a variety of industries, including consumer electronics, medical equipment, and home office and business appliances. Xerox recently made the technology available for licensing.

CarbonConX uses a process called "pultrusion" to bundle thousands of thin carbon fibers into one coated, rigid element - similar to packing thousands of straws together into a solid block or rod, according to the company. It takes about 1,000 fibers to make a 0.3-mm (0.01 -in) diam rod. When the rod is cut, each end is densely packed with thousands of points available to make electrical contacts. Xerox says this means that the carbon connector is more reliable than metal and, at the same time, structurally stronger and more resistant to breakage because of the characteristics of the polymer and carbon bundle.

In addition, compared to metal, carbon connectors are said to be far less susceptible to corrosion and contamination with elements such as saltwater, heat, and dust. They can reportedly be produced with around 90 percent fewer manufacturing steps than metal connectors.

According to Larisa Belliveau, Xerox Technology Marketing manager, CarbonConX technology has several applications for the home appliance market. "Present consumer and industrial appliances employ conventional switches, connectors, sensors, and other electrical components made from metal contacts, which have a high failure rate in the home environment," she explains. "Metal connectors are a major cause of product unreliability and customer dissatisfaction. Independent studies have shown that CarbonConX significantly improves the reliability of critical components used in office products. The inventors believe that similar improvements may be available to home appliances."

CarbonConX technology, also known as "distributed filament contacts," is protected by more than 30 patents. Carbon fibers are commonly used in engineering and manufacturing, but Xerox is said to be a pioneer in using it in conductive applications. The manufacturer originally invented CarbonConX to efficiently bleed static electricity away from electrical components inside printers and copiers, as fast-moving paper generates static charges that need to be channeled to the ground.

For instance, the metal components and ball bearings used to conduct power to drive shafts within a printer would get gummed up, over time, by paper and toner dust and other particles. Replacing them with solid carbon connectors that were more reliable has reportedly saved Xerox millions of dollars in manufacturing and machine repair costs over the years.

"CarbonConX can be integrated into numerous mechanical elements, thus reducing the number of parts needed while increasing the overall reliability of the system," Ms. Belliveau says. "Relative immunity to particulate and airborne contaminants can add a degree of robustness to appliance controls that will result in longer life."


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