Pre-finished Composite Materials
As you walk across the floor of your new kitchen, you notice the floor doesn’t have the bounce that you felt in your old house. Although you were initially skeptical, the new ¼ inch thick composite floor with the factory applied synthetic marble finish works as well as promised by the manufacturer. Your builder was happy to specify this panel product since it saved him the trouble and expense of putting in separate floor sheathing and finish flooring. And once the framer got used to the idea that his framing materials also served as the finished floor, he admitted it was a real efficient way of doing things.
This scenario could be a reality in the not to distant future as a new generation of composite materials begin to evolve. Composite materials have been used in other industries for decades. Perhaps the best known composite technology is the honeycomb panel. The marriage of composite technology with lamination techniques now brings the use of composites closer to a reality for home building applications. Lamination offers a variety of pre-finished choices for honeycomb panels and similar products.
The honeycomb panel, as seen on the bottom
of this image, is integrated to other materials.
(Source: US Army Research Lab)
High pressure laminate finishes for honeycomb panels
Euro-Composites Corporation of Elkwood, Virginia is one company who produces a thin, honeycomb core material with a variety of finishes, including a simulated marble finish. The base material is similar to the high-strength composites used in floors of trains and subway cars. The innovation in this product is not the composite technology but rather the ability to provide a durable finish surface that is similar to other finishes found in homes today.
The use of high pressure laminate (HPL) technology allows the panels to be pre-finished on one or both sides. According to Euro-Composites’ website, "HPL is already widely used in the furniture industry and consists of several layers of resin-coated paper together with a decorative paper and a protective coating of melamin resin. All these components are then bonded together under high pressure." HPLs can be specifically bonded to honeycomb panel structures.
Application to PATH Roadmaps
A possible application includes floor systems that contain the subflooring and finish in a single product, since these could be made to be load bearing between joists or trusses. This technology may also have application as panel technology for walls, floors, and possibly roofs. The opportunity exists in all of these applications to develop components that serve multiple functions (e.g., structure and finish).
Current Status of Technology
High Pressure Laminates are used throughout the homebuilding industry and other industries as well. Composite technology with pre-finished surfaces is currently used in other industries including commercial construction. An example in commercial construction is the pre-finished panels often used on the interior of elevators. Composite honeycomb technology is typically used as part of the structure in trains and airplanes where there is a need for thin, high-strength structural materials.
There are numerous universities and companies developing or producing composite materials. Euro-Composites is just one of these companies. Their contact person is:
Phone: (540) 727-8526