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The World’s First Carbon Fibre Production Chair

18 June 2004

Australian company, Talon, has developed a series of carbon fibre products to compete in the contract furniture market.

Talon Chairs is the first in the line of many products expected to hit the market in the near future.

The Talon chair is a 70% recyclable chair made almost entirely of carbon braid with unidirectional sub layers and moulded in matched metal tools using SP115 in an RTM process. This process was the natural choice as it is suited to volume manufacture and achieves a low labour finish. At 2.4 kilograms the Talon Chair is half the weight of a normal chair.

One notable part of the chair is the way that the carbon braid is forced in to very tight radiuses using a rigid forming core with a very tight tolerance between the core and the outer mould which could only really be done with CNC tooling. This enabled Talon to create extremely complex forms with details similar to extruded and die cast aluminium.

The end result was stacking chair constructed entirely from carbon fibre with a recommended retail price of US$450.00.

On the success of the Talon Chair, Talon is now developing new processes and furniture pieces to capture a part of the US$118 Billion a year spent on furniture in the US alone.

At the time of the Talon Chairs development, the furniture markets general preconception of carbon fibre furniture steered (and still does) towards low volume, expensive “art pieces”, and carbon fibre was being overlooked as a viable material. This was exemplified by pieces such as Alberto Meda’s Soft lite Chair which was constructed from an aluminium honeycomb core and carbon prepreg, it was available for a mere US$2000 a chair. Talon and Bang Design purposely styled the Talon Chair so it would a serious contender in the competitive contract market.

Returning from the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, Geoff Germon of Talon explains the pitfalls of this large new market.

Furniture depends upon design, durability and function and carbon fibre has a lot to offer in these areas and should be finding a home in this significant market. As an indication of the value of this market segment in 2003 US$10 billion was spent on office furniture and US$8 billion a month spent on home furnishings in the US alone.

Carbon gives the designer enormous freedom in terms of form and function, it is warm to the touch like wood, most people like the carbon clear finish and it will take paint finishes and gel coats quite well. The finished assemblies are usually tough and fatigue resistant though surface durability especially painted parts is usually not as good as finished metals.

With so much to offer the furniture market, it is curious as to why carbon has made such little headway in a market where CF chairs can actually be cost competitive with metal and plastic chairs manufactured in Europe and the US.

Geoff Germon believes that “there is no simple answer to this, although my personal conclusion is that it is a combination based on a lack of materials knowledge”.

He continues to add that “there are almost no design schools teaching the application of carbon materials and even fewer with much of a clue regarding the more complex medium volume moulding technologies such as RTM, and Vacuum Infusion. As a result you have the classic chicken and egg problem, designers like the idea of carbon but don’t have the information to use it, and what designs are done are often flat limited curve things that could have been done in aluminium sheet. Complex load bearing structures usually need experience to derive and there is very little technical data available as you would normally find when designing a part with metal tubing for example. In essence the inexperienced designer drowns in a sea of choice, struggling to decide on the right combination of resin, fibre type and process.”

Germon also concludes by stating that “there is also the problem of people failing to recognise carbon for what it is, which is a fabric frozen into a plastic resin, so clear finish carbon parts have some of the issues relating to upholstered chairs where there can be slight differences in weave and colour. In fabric or wooden chairs these details are accepted by the customer as part of the “character “ of the piece however with carbon parts the form and rigidity resemble metal so they think that a twist in the weave or a change is resin thickness must be a fault.”