Advances in material science and production methods mean panels can be manufactured today to be stronger and lighter than ever before. ThermHex Honeycomb, XPS Polystyrene & Larcore Aluminium honeycomb cores offer manufacturers a range of exciting benefits over traditional materials such as plywood, MDF & cardboard.

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About This Guide

This guide will look at some of the new lightweight composite panels available, their uses within a range of industries and how Panel Systems can employ its knowledge and expertise to create bespoke solutions for your applications.

The Benefits of Lightweight Panels

Some of the common reasons manufacturers are turning to lightweight panel materials include:

Weight Savings — The lightweight nature of, for example, ThermHex Polypropylene honeycomb means logistics companies can carry more product, deliver more parcels and reduce fuel costs. This helps them gain competitive advantage and thus becomes a key aspect of the vehicles they purchase.

Cost Savings — The fight to remain competitive means that logistics companies can increase their loads and thus increase profitability for each HGV, truck or commercial vehicle on the road.

Environmental Savings — Less weight means less fuel and less CO2 emissions. This is particularly attractive to larger brands and manufacturers serving the general public — for example, the food and leisure industries.

Increased Strength — Emerging technologies offer greater strength to engineers, allowing them to reduce the weight of their vehicles, increase the space available inside the vehicle whilst meeting regulatory requirements. It also allows new avenues in product design and product R & D.

Stiffness & Stability — Modern techniques used to create newer materials produce internal structures that are both incredibly strong and also lightweight, reducing the material’s susceptibility to both bending and vibration.

Thermal Efficiency — Along with weight reduction, improvements to thermal efficiency also mean energy savings are available to distributors using refrigerated goods vehicles.

Water Resistance — Improvements to water resistance can reduce the vulnerability to moisture and corrosion seen with more traditional materials.

These combined benefits add up to an improvement in the competitive strength of products offered by the manufacturer, creating an attractive proposition to customers who themselves face similar challenges around staying competitive. In short, the benefits of lightweight panels can be enjoyed by both manufacturers and their customers and have become a key battleground in the supply chain.

Introducing the Technology

A number of specialised panel core materials have been developed that maximise strength while reducing weight.

Larcore aluminium honeycomb consists of an aluminium honeycomb faced each side with a primed aluminium surface. Decorative facings can then be added to create incredibly strong yet light panels. These cores are manufactured in a continuous process and are available in standard sheets of 3120 x 1500mm or cut to size in a range of thickness from 6mm to 30mm — other thickness on request.

ThermHex polypropylene honeycomb is another core that provides incredible weight reductions while offering strength and stability. This polypropylene material creates a particularly strong honeycomb effect through a unique ‘continuous’ in-line production process. ThermHex has a fine fleece finish — again to aid bonding of additional facing materials. ThermHex is available in thicknesses ranging from 3.5mm to 28mm.

Ravatherm XPS is an extruded polystyrene material made by the largest XPS producer in Europe — Ravago. Sandwich panels made with Ravatherm are strong and durable with an excellent thermal performance, making them ideal for transport industries such as refrigeration. Available in thicknesses ranging from 10 – 155mm this core has a closed cell structure making it highly resistant to water penetration.

Cores Comparison Table

The following table helps illustrate the tangible benefits of using these modern materials in your products versus more traditional materials (plywood & MDF):

 15mm ThermHex
polypropylene
honeycomb
15mm Larcore
aluminium
honeycomb
15mm
extruded
polystyrene
15mm plywood15mm MR MDF
Weight (kg/M2)1.636.780.511.2511.6
Compressive strength (KPA)12002000300--
Thermal performance (W/mK)0.0601.780.031 to 0.0330.130.12
Moisture resistanceExcellentExcellentGoodFairAcceptable
Thickness Ranges (mm)3.5mm – 28mm6 mm– 30mm5mm – 155mm3.6mm – 25mm6 – 30mm

Please note: The data above is given as a guide only and should be checked prior to order.

Who Can Benefit from Lightweight Panels?

Below are some of the typical sectors in which lightweight panels can be found and some of their applications.

Commercial vehicles:

  • Vehicle body panels — Weight reduction is of major importance for the haulage sector. Many firms choose to replace heavy metal sides and roofs of existing vehicles with lighter panels, reducing fuel costs and increasing load capacity.
  • Train panels — The aluminium cores of panels used inside train carriages adhere to the rigorous strength and safety requirements needed for rail transport while leading to weight and fuel reductions.

  • Buses and coaches — Weight is saved through the use of ThermHex as either linings to replace plywood sheets or a core material within panels used inside the vehicles.

Leisure vehicles:

  • Caravan and motorhomes — All caravans have a maximum technically permissible laden mass (MTPLM). This is the maximum it can weigh to be legally on the road. To reduce weight, caravan and motorhome manufacturers seek to use the lightest and strongest material available to create furniture, internal wall panels, tabletops and flooring.

  • Van conversions — Van conversions see standard commercial vehicles turned into unique campervans. To create standing space, metal roofs must be replaced with lightweight yet sturdy alternatives which can be raised when required. Replacing flooring with similar material reduces overall weight, while additional furniture is also required to be light yet strong.
  • Marine vessels — For craft with no motors, reduced weight aids manoeuvrability. Those that do feature engines look to cut weight wherever possible in order to reduce fuel cost and extend the life of the engine. Like land-based touring vehicles, marine vessels can reduce weight by designing or replacing furniture, flooring and wall panels with lightweight honeycomb materials.

Manufacturing

  • Furniture — Many cabinets for kitchens and bathrooms feature shelving, sides and bases made of lightweight material. This helps to reduce manufacturer transport costs while making handling easier.
  • Door panels — Modern doors using composite materials are lighter and thermally efficient.
  • Industrial acoustic booths — Composite panels can be produced using materials that absorb and contain noise. Applications include industrial settings where heavy machinery is situated in an enclosed space near employees.
  • Portable Ramps — Lightweight composite material is used for portable ramps, which are required to be strong yet light.
  • Kitchen worktops — Many granite worktops use a baseboard to improve stability. Lightweight materials such as ThermHex are a popular choice.
  • Portable buildings — Weight and strength are major issues when larger prefabricated structures are required to be in transit for repeated short journeys.

Lightweight Panel Facings

There is a wide selection of facings available for bonding to new technology lightweight cores. These multiple combinations allow manufacturers to create panels for a variety of applications without concerns that the materials will not offer the same options to be found with more traditional cores of MDF, plywood and cardboard.

Popular facing materials available include:

  • Aluminium
  • Plywood
  • Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP)
  • Coated steel
  • Stone
  • MDF
  • Concrete
  • Laminate

What about Cutting?

Panel cores can be supplied in sheet form, meaning they need to be cut on site. This presents no issues since the cores are easily cut and shaped to individual specifier needs. The cutting of ThermHex honeycomb cores, for example, can be done with conventional tools such as circular saw, circular knife, waterjet cutting, laser cutting, punching and so on. For Larcore aluminium honeycomb, panels can be CNC cut to customers own details and designs.

Need More Help?

Panel Systems offers a bespoke approach suitable for a variety of industrial and transportation-related applications. We also cut and supply the raw panel cores to your size and thickness requirements. Our technical team is here to help and we have a huge amount of experience across a wide range of industries.

Further Resources

Technical brochures for all our lightweight cores are available upon request.