What you need to know
The Grenfell Tower in London and Melbourne’s ‘Lacrosse’, have been propagated throughout the media- and for good reason, these are just two examples of how these blazes could have- and should have been avoided.
What these three buildings all had in common was a little more than what originally meets the eye, as external Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP). In these two cases, the panels allowed the fire to spread rapidly, leaving family and friends of the victims devastated and after answers. Some of those answers are something that will be provided over the course of this article to address this issue.
First and foremost, the issue is not the brand of the panel, nor the location in which the panel was made, the issue is more complex than these classic allegations, these will be dealt with further on. The heart of the issue lies at the core of the Aluminium Composite Panel.
The composition of a composite panel varies, essentially comprised of three layers, the two outer layers are thin Aluminium sheets and sandwiched between these 2 sheets are 1 of the following four options:
|1||A Polyethylene Core (PE Core)||Solid||Black||100% Flammable, Polyethylene core|
|2||A Fire-Retardant [or Fire Rated] Core (FR Core)||Solid||White||70% Fire Retardant, 30% polyethylene core|
|3||A Fire-Retardant [or Fire Rated] Core (FR Core)||Solid||White/Light Grey||90% Fire Retardant, 10% Polyethylene core|
|4||A 100% Non-combustible Core||Honeycomb Structure||Aluminium||100% non-combustible honeycomb aluminium core|
Figure 1: The polyethylene Core is characterised by the colour black, the 70% FR panel by its white core the 90% FR panel by its white/light grey core (Not seen in the above image) and the 100% non-combustible Core by its corrugated aluminium core.
Questions like “why don’t we use 100% non-combustible on all buildings?” may arise and while this seems like the most logical solution the reason being is the price, the most fire hazardous is the cheapest, and the price increases as does the fire safety. The reason for the price increase is not a deliberate and direct association with the fire safety level of the material. The price is determined by how readily available the material is and how much it costs to use those raw/artificial materials for the manufacturing of the panels.
Another Safe alternative is a sheet of pure aluminium, which is 100% non-combustible also. However, this is more expensive than the other 3 ACP types, again due to the availability and price of the raw aluminium. It is also heavier due to the denseness of the pure aluminium panel.
ACP Products are manufactured worldwide including China and Germany, most brands manufacture products ranging in combustibility, therefore the brand and place of manufacture does not determine the flammability of the ACP. The chosen product is determined by the specific compliance requirements to meet the building codes and regulations for each project (i.e.: Fit for Purpose); another major contributing factor is the class of buildings and the quantity and placement of the ACP. Along with choosing the correct type of ACP it is essential that the fixing detail also is compliant as there are a couple of different fixing methods that vary in combustibility. Therefore it is important to get professionals in to install the ACP, who know what type of ACP is required for each project and who know what fixing method to use, to ensure a safer building.
The Grenfell Tower, and the Lacrosse had the PE core panel, the most flammable on the building, which, should never have happened in the first place as it was not fit for purpose, and therefore should never have been allowed to proceed with installation. These buildings exemplify what can go wrong with the wrong type of ACP is used, a much safer more sustainable aluminium composite panel could have- and should have been used.
Cladding Creations would like to extend our deepest condolences to the survivors, and the victims family and friends of these tragic events.