Aluminium composite panels are one of the most versatile and practical external wall cladding products. They are lightweight, easy to work with and durable. And of course, they look great.
However, in recent years, aluminium composite panels (ACP) have been getting some bad press.
A 2014 fire in a Docklands high-rise in Melbourne caused $12 million damage and resulted in major compensation lawsuits. In 2017, a fire decimated the Grenfell Tower in London. Both of these fires were attributed to poor-quality ACP products.
As a result of these accidents, there have been some major changes to building regulations in the past five years. In 2017, the Victorian Government established the Victorian Cladding Taskforce to look into the use of non-compliant external wall cladding in Victoria and to make recommendations for safety improvements.
Stringent new design regulations for ACP products and tougher building inspection and approval processes mean that only premium quality aluminium composite panels can now be used in Australia.
Besides the stringent fire safety requirements that ensure a completely non-combustible product, ACP products offer a range of other benefits. But before we get into that, what is an aluminium composite panel?
What is ACP?
Aluminium composite panels (or ACPs) are made up of two thin sheets of aluminium bonded to a polymer core. The composition of the polymer core varies depending on the ACP product, some products containing a polymer core of less than 10%. Aluminum honeycomb products have a honeycomb-pattern aluminium core instead of a polymer core. These products contain no polymer core and are completely non-combustible.
Solid aluminium cladding panels are also available. Although, since these are made from 100% aluminium, they are technically not composite panels.
Now that we have a general idea what an ACP is, let’s have a look at some of the benefits.
Aluminium itself is completely non-combustible. While it will melt at around 600℃, it will not release any harmful gases. While ACPs have had some combustibility issues in the past, it was the polymer core in older style panels that was combustible, not the panels themselves
New building guidelines require that ACP products have a less than 30% polyethylene core to ensure they are non-combustible. ACP products must also meet the Australian Standards for fire safety testing and the relevant building codes as a non-combustible building material.
For the best in fire proofing, solid aluminium cladding products — like Alfrex Solid, Mondoclad or Vitradual — contain no polymer core and are completely non-combustible.
Durable and lightweight
Any exterior wall cladding material needs to be tough, durable and capable of withstanding the elements, especially in the harsh Aussie climate. Aluminium composite materials are weatherproof and corrosion resistant and can be expected to last a lifetime with minimal maintenance.
Together with its durability, aluminium cladding is also extremely lightweight. Aluminium cladding products can be as much as two-thirds lighter than steel cladding of comparable thickness and have a remarkable strength-to-weight ratio. This makes aluminium products easier and cheaper to transport and work with on-site, compared with heavier building materials.
Flexible and versatile
Aluminium is extremely flexible, especially compared to denser, heavier metals like steel. This makes it easy to bend and shape and work with in general. Aluminium panels can be cutted, folded, drilled, bent and perforated without losing structural integrity. This makes aluminium extremely versatile and perfect for use in a range of architectural and design applications.
Aluminium is highly recyclable and doesn’t lose any material quality in the recycling process. Additionally, recycling aluminium requires only a fraction of the energy compared with manufacturing new products. Much of the aluminium used in construction is recycled. This means that by carefully choosing your ACP products, you can enhance the green credentials of your building project.
Compared to other external wall cladding materials — like timber, steel or solid concrete walls — aluminium wall cladding requires very little maintenance. Most ACP products are finished with premium PVDF coatings or painted to help protect the surface and keep the panels looking great. Due to the finishing, aluminium panels require only basic cleaning once a year to remove contaminants and keep them looking clean. They are corrosion resistant, resistant to mould and mildew and not susceptible to damage from moisture or pests.
Old style, low quality aluminium composite panels have taken quite a beating in the media lately. However, if you’re working with premium quality aluminium cladding, you can rest assured that you’re working with one of the best cladding materials available.