CW Blog

The Grenfell Tower Fire - Let's make sure our architectural composites meet the codes

First, the devastating and deadly fire in a residential high-rise tower in London on June 14 did NOT involve composite materials as defined by CompositesWorld magazine, our readers and most composite suppliers. The Reynobond PE cladding panels that were involved in the fire, part of a “rainscreen” exterior installation (here’s a link to one of my articles from a few years back, where raincreens are discussed: http://www.compositesworld.com/articles/the-building-envelope-betting-on-the-big-time), were made of thin aluminum skins over a thermoplastic core, and manufactured by Arconic (New York, NY, US, the successor company to Alcoa Inc., which split into two entities in 2016 — Alcoa Corp. retains alumina, aluminum and bauxite production operations). Media reports say that a refrigerator placed close to an exterior wall might have been the fire source, and that the rainscreen air gap designed to keep rain out of the building instead acted as a chimney, funneling the flames that burned the decorative panels as well as the underlying Celotex polyisocyanurate (PIR) rigid thermal insulation. This is the latest in a succession of external cladding fires over the past 10 years, and there is good evidence that such cladding, if not properly fire tested, can spread fire externally on a building, both on the external cladding surface and within the cladding assembly, says Dr. Nicholas Dempsey, professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (Worcester, MA, US) Fire Protection Engineering department.

There are two big issues here, in my opinion. First, this cladding laminate obviously wasn’t fire retardant, and published reports including a New York Times article from June 24th  (here’s the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/24/world/europe/grenfell-tower-london-fire.html) say it was installed inappropriately — that the aluminum laminates only “resisted” ignition, and in Britain regulators apparently did not require fire testing to evaluate flammability in as-installed conditions. US regulators don’t allow these and similar rainscreen cladding systems involving plastic above the height of a fireman’s ladder, about 4 stories, unless they pass the National Fire Protection Assn.’s (NFPA) 285 full-scale assembly test, as well as the ASTM E84 Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials and other tests, for compliance with US building codes.

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This is the third blog in my series on Automated Preforming. The first two can be found here:

In this blog, I describe the Quilted Stratum Process (QSP) based on my tour of the pilot production line at Cetim (Nantes, France) and also include a brief section at the end on Cetim's 3D thermoplastic filament winding technology for Class V pressure vessels, referred to as Spide TP.

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Covestro to provide materials to “Sonnenwagen Aachen” team for solar race

 

A group of students at RWTH Aachen University and Aachen University of Applied Sciences are working on developing a solar-powered electric car for the World Solar Challenge 2017 from October 8 to 15 in Australia. The approximately 45 junior researchers established the “Sonnenwagen Aachen e.V.” association, with the support of their professors. 

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