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Composite Panels: Uniting Durability and Functionality

Aluminum Composite Panel
Aluminum Composite Panel

Composite Panels: Uniting Durability and Functionality

Building MaterialsComposite Panels: Uniting Durability and Functionality

Composite panels are far from the latest addition in all things construction-related. However, what is groundbreaking is the wide range of materials from which such panels are manufactured. 

Wood, aluminum, fibreglass, or linen even; so how to choose between the lot? It all depends on the panel's intended use. 

What Is a Composite Panel?

Wood Composite Panels

A panel is said to be composite when it’s made with a rigid support (e.g., a polyethylene core) and a secondary panel or waterproof multilayered sheet (e.g., aluminum), laminated together in-factory. As such, composite materials consist of two elements: 

  • A matrix (oftentimes polymer) 

  • A reinforcement (organic fibres, minerals, etc.)   

It can, for example, be made with the following: 

  • Metal (reinforcement) and plastic (matrix) 

  • Fibreglass (reinforcement) and polyester (matrix) 

  • Wood (reinforcement) and polymers (matrix)

The above-listed panels differ on account of their manufacturing processes and properties.

Different Types of Composite Panels in Canada

Aluminum Composite Panel

Wood Composite Panels

Wood composite panels don't only make for great siding, cladding, balcony coverings, or soffits, they’re also visually appealing, easy to clean, durable, and affordable. Wood composite panels are:

  • Weather-resistant (-20°C to +80°C)

  • Waterproof

  • UV-resistant 

  • Rot-resistant

  • Termite repellent 

  • Shock- and scratch-resistant

They’re all the more interesting given that they’re both eco-friendly and aesthetic. Indeed, wood composite panels are wood fibre and recycled plastic composites issued from a waste-to-energy supply chain. In other words, industry-related businesses make use of unwanted materials: 

  • Sawmill residue

  • Primary wood processing residue

  • Secondary wood processing residue  

This construction industry-specific sector gave light to a consortium—Corepan-Bois—with the hope of:

  • Improving productivity

  • Training highly-qualified personnel

  • Elevating Canada—fourth largest industry—to a top three position

Aluminum Composite Panel (ACP)

Aluminum composite panels, also known as ACPs, are categorized as “sandwich panels.” Why? Because they’re made of two aluminum layers, covering a core made of a different material, which happens to be polyethylene in the majority of cases. 

ACP flat panels are used in construction to cover building envelopes, from cladding to interior fixtures. Aluminum composite panels also serve as advertising signs, given their smooth surface, allowing for adhesives to bond to the material easily. ACPs, known for their ease of installation and design versatility, are also found in the makings of commercial stand roofing, where they’re highly sought-after on account of their finish, as well as the wide range of colours in which they’re retailed.

Said material has numerous assets, given that it is: 

  • Durable (shock-, salt-, and UV-ray resistant, and weatherproof)

  • Recyclable

  • Fireproof

  • Lightweight

  • Aesthetic

  • Cost-effective 

Fibreglass Composite Panels

Fibreglass is commonly used in the agri-food industry. Indeed, fibreglass panels are great for outfitting food processing facilities. Their smooth surfaces streamline maintenance, and their significant chemical resistance prevents harsh environment-related degradation. 

What really sets this material apart from other composite panels is their sizing. Spanning lengths capable of covering 1,200 x 3,000 mm (47 in x 118 in), using such panels significantly reduces the amount of joints needed.

Another asset: The possibility of mounting panels on almost all surface types: 

  • Bond stone

  • Concrete

  • Faience

  • Gypsum

  • And more

Carbon Fibre Boards

Carbon fibre boards aren’t predominantly used in the construction industry, but rather in the aerospace industry, chemistry-related fields, and machinery. Made with carbon fibre and a resin matrix (oftentimes an epoxy resin), it has excellent resistance and a better modulus of elasticity compared to steel panels, yet weighs less.

As a result, they can even be found inside train carriages and boat hulls.

In the construction industry, carbon fibre isn’t retailed in panel or board form, but rather in the following three compositions: 

  • Dry carbon fibre 

  • Carbon fibre fabric 

  • Pre-preg fabric 

Carbon fibre is used for a lot of civil engineering work to reinforce certain structural components. As such, it makes for stronger and more resilient buildings in case of earthquakes.  

Sandwich Panels

This sort of panel designates the material’s core as being framed, on all sides, by another layer of material. According to manufacturers, the core can either be:

  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS)

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)

  • Polyurethane 

The panel’s sides can then be covered with fibreglass or aluminum. However, what will determine the panel’s intended use is its core material. For example: 

  • Expanded polystyrene (EPS) core: industrial, residential, commercial, marine, and agricultural industries, as well as others.

  • Polypropylene (bee hive): zones requiring high impact resistance, bullet traps (with a Kevlar reinforcement)

  • Polyethylene terephthalate (PET): zones requiring high compression and flexion resistance, good thermal and acoustic insulation, and shock resistance. 

  • Polyurethane: walk-in coolers, freezers, roofing, modular buildings, etc.

Natural Panels

By natural panels, we mean materials made of natural fibres. The fibres used are typically:

  • Linen

  • Hemp

  • Jute

  • Sisal

  • Ramie 

When used, it’s often to promote local resources stemming from countries that are still under-developed or to reduce a specific sector’s environmental impact, such as the construction industry. 

However, note that natural fibre insulation panels aren’t 100% renewable or eco-friendly, as said technology isn’t there yet. While research is still ongoing in the hopes of discovering bio-based binders, petrol-based binders are still the most commonly used products.

What Are Composite Panels Used For, and Where Are They Used?

Natural Panels

Fencing

Albeit not often thought about, fencing can very well be made with wood composite panels. Resilient and aesthetically pleasing, such panels make the perfect fence as it’s not likely to lose its sheen over the years. 

Therefore, some manufacturers offer rigid panel slats for fencing protected by a barrier-like layer, allowing the panels to withstand the following:

  • Bad weather

  • UV rays

  • Wind

  • Moisture

Courtesy of the material’s great resilience and a wide array of colours, you can also use it to shield your pool since it isn’t susceptible to moisture or harsh environments (chlorine, salt, etc.). 

Exterior Wall Cladding or Siding

Composite panels make for great exterior cladding material. They can be mounted according to the ventilated façade principle. To do so, a wooden or aluminum structure will serve as the load-bearing surface.

Then, the composite panels are secured to the extrusion using brackets and profiles. The goal is quite simple: have a 30-mm gap between the composite panels and the façade. Said void will serve as an air space.

The installation process can be done in an open (with a small gap between every panel) or closed manner (devoid of gaps—using top caps). 

Interior Wall Panelling or Suspended Ceilings

Interior wall panelling is often made with polyurethane sandwich panels. Why is that? Simply because polyurethane is a great soundproofing material. As such, it’s ideal for cloistering different areas.

The same applies to suspended ceilings as polyurethane is also a great thermal insulation material, depending on its cell structure. 

Polyurethane, used to shape the panel’s matrix, can be covered with an aluminum reinforcement. Said material is favoured for its aesthetic and mirror-like effect. 

How to Clean Composite Panels

Carbon Composite Panels

Once again, it all depends on the material used as the composite panel’s reinforcement layer. When it comes to composite wood, soapy water and a sponge are all you need to clean such a surface.

For aluminum, the process is a tad more tricky. In most cases, water, a sponge, and a soft rag will get the job done. The key factor with aluminum is to avoid using abrasive materials and harsh chemicals. Indeed, using such cleaners risks damaging the cladding.

The same applies to fibreglass panels that are, too, fragile. As such, avoid using metal scrub brushes. Any rust covering fibreglass surfaces must be removed with a dedicated anti-rust product. For regular upkeep, it’s best to keep it simple with water, soap, and a sponge.


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Last modified 2024-07-02

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