A sandwich panel is any structure made of three layers: a low-density core, and a thin skin-layer bonded to each side. Sandwich panels are used in applications where a combination of high structural rigidity and low weight is required.
Sandwich panels are an example of a sandwich structured composite: the strength and lightness of this technology makes it popular and widespread. Its versatility means that the panels have many applications and come in many forms: the core and skin materials can vary widely and the core may be a honeycomb or a solid filling. Enclosed panels are termed cassettes.
One obvious application is in aircraft, where mechanical performance and weight-saving are essential. Transportation and automotive applications also exist.
In building and construction, these prefabricated products designed for use as building envelopes. They appear in industrial and office buildings, in clean and cold rooms and also in private houses, whether renovation or new-build. They combine a high-quality product with high flexibility regarding design. They generally have a good energy-efficiency and sustainability.
In packaging, applications include fluted polypropylene boards and polypropylene honeycomb boards.
Aluminium composite panels (ACP), made of aluminium composite material (ACM), are flat panels consisting of two thin coil-coated aluminium sheets bonded to a non-aluminium core. ACPs are frequently used for external cladding or facades of buildings, insulation, and signage.
ACP is mainly used for external and internal architectural cladding or partitions, false ceilings, signage, machine coverings, container construction, etc. Applications of ACP are not limited to external building cladding, but can also be used in any form of cladding such as partitions, false ceilings, etc. ACP is also widely used within the signage industry as an alternative to heavier, more expensive substrates.
ACP has been used as a light-weight but very sturdy material in construction, particularly for transient structures like trade show booths and similar temporary elements. It has recently also been adopted as a backing material for mounting fine art photography, often with an acrylic finish using processes like Diasec or other face-mounting techniques. ACP material has been used in famous structures as Spaceship Earth, VanDusen Botanical Garden, the Leipzig branch of the German National Library.
These structures made optimal use of ACP through its cost, durability, and efficiency. Its flexibility, low weight, and easy forming and processing allow for innovative design with increased rigidity and durability. Where the core material is flammable, the usage must be considered. The standard ACP core is polyethylene (PE) or polyurethane (PU). These materials do not have good fire-resistant (FR) properties unless specially treated and are therefore not generally suitable as a building material for dwellings; several jurisdictions have banned their use completely. Arconic, owner of the Reynobond brand, cautions the prospective buyer. Concerning the core, it says that distance of the panel from the ground is a determinant of "which materials are safer to use". In a brochure it has a graphic of a building in flames, with the caption "[a]s soon as the building is higher than the firefighters’ ladders, it has to be conceived with an incombustible material". It shows that the Reynobond polyethylene product is for up to circa 10 meters; the fire-retardant product (c. 70% mineral core) from there to up to c. 30 meters, the height of the ladder; and the European A2-rated product (c. 90% mineral core) for anything above that. In this brochure, Fire Safety in High-rise Buildings: Our Fire Solutions, product specification is only given for the last two products.
The cladding materials, particularly the core, have been implicated as a possible contributing factor in the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London, as well as in high-rise building fires in Melbourne, Australia; France; the United Arab Emirates; South Korea; and the United States. Fire-rated cores, such as mineral wool (MW), are an alternative, but are usually more expensive and often not a legal requirement.
The aluminium sheets can be coated with polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), fluoropolymer resins (FEVE), or polyester paint. Aluminium can be painted in any kind of colour, and ACPs are produced in a wide range of metallic and non-metallic colours as well as patterns that imitate other materials, such as wood or marble. The core is commonly low-density polyethylene (PE), or a mix of low-density polyethylene and mineral material to exhibit fire retardant properties.
3A Composites (formerly Alcan Composites & Alusuisse) invented aluminium composites in 1964 - as a joint invention with BASF- and commercial production of Alucobond commenced in 1969. The product was patented in 1971, a patent which expired in 1991. After the expiration of the patent several companies started commercial production such as Reynobond (1991), Alpolic (Mitsubishi Chemicals, 1995), etalbond (1995). Today, it's estimated that more than 200 companies across the world are producing ACP.
Sandwich panel construction techniques have experienced considerable development in the last 40 years. Previously, sandwich panels were considered products suitable only for functional constructions and industrial buildings. However, their good insulation characteristics, their versatility, quality and appealing visual appearance, have resulted in a growing and widespread use of the panels across a huge variety of buildings.
The qualities that have produced the rapid growth in the use of sandwich panels, particularly in construction, include: