Making Cuben Fiber

There are various steps to making Cuben Fiber with the number of steps dependent on the engineering of the finished fabric. For example, a heavy fabric for use on a megayacht mainsail will have more steps than a light fabric for use as spinnaker material. The basic process is the same; it's just that the heavier fabrics require more layers, hence more steps.

The foundation of all Cuben Fiber fabrics is tapes of pre-preg fibers 30 meters long and 30 centimeters wide. The fibers can be either Spectra 2000, which is the most common, or carbon. To create the tapes, parallel fibers of Spectra or carbon are applied to a paper carrier with a light adhesive, and these tapes are then laid by hand to a base paper after which the paper carrier is removed. These tapes can be applied parallel to each other or at an angle, with the number of tapes and the angle at which they are applied being predetermined by the fabric engineering to form the basic structure of the Cuben Fiber cloth.

The next step is called pre-lamination, during which the matrix is applied to a substrate like Tedlar or Mylar to further stabilize the product. Then the raw fabric is moved into the autoclave where precise temperature and pressure can be applied to the fabric to bind the various components together. The exact temperature remains a trade secret - in fact, a number of Cuben Fiber's procedures are secret - but the result is that the various layers are molded into one and what enters the oven as a loose-knit thick layer of film and fiber comes out as a flat, smooth, supple, plastic-like fabric ready to be sent to the sailmaker. The sailmaker then treats this fabric much the same as he would a bolt of cloth, with the main differences being that these sheets of Cuben Fiber are only 30 meters long, rather than hundreds of meters long like a regular roll of cloth, and the fiber orientation is engineered specifically for certain parts of the sail. For example, the sailmaker will not use the same sheet for the high-load areas such as the leech of a maxi-catamaran mainsail as he would for the body or even the luff of the sail.

By manufacturing fabric in this manner, engineers are able to retain all the excellent properties of Spectra (low initial stretch, excellent flex, and UV resistance) while negating the fiber's problems with creep. They also manage to produce sails as strong as their "regular" Spectra counterparts at about half the

Cuben Fiber Sample
The manufacturers of Cuben Fiber hope to see their fabric on race courses around the world as common as other types of fabric.

weight (depending upon the size of the sail). For example the fabric that was made for Team Adventure weighed 11.4 ounces and had a DPI of 160,000 compared to a standard Spectra fabric of equal strength that weighed 18.0 ounces and only had a DPI of 94,000. In addition, the flex properties of Cuben Fiber are nothing short of remarkable. A regular aramid laminate loses up to 80 percent of its strength after being folded 250 times. A piece of Cuben Fiber of similar weight loses less than one percent of its original strength after being subjected to the same folding routine.

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