The decline in new building construction has hurt Dipcraft Manufacturing’s fiberglass panel business, but the company believes retrofitting will help through the tough times. “Many of the buildings that need repair feature panels that were manufactured decades ago. Those companies are now out of business, and because we can implement a variety of shapes in the panel design, that’s a niche we believe we can fill,” says Michael Tobias, president.
Retrofitting is most common in older factories that were built with a large number of glass windows. “The glass tends to break and is costly to replace. We sell the owners large fiberglass sheets that go across the existing windows and cover them. It lets light in without replacing the glass planes,” says Tobias.. The sheets are applied only on the outside, and while this doesn’t repair the glass, the benefits are cosmetic. “It makes the building look a lot better because the material still lets light in, but you won’t see the broken panes behind it. It’s like an insulation barrier.”
The panels are a composite of a fiberglass mesh, which is usually a chopped strand and woven cloth, embedded in a polyester resin base. The panels are manufactured in a process similar to continuous casting; they come through a series of dyes and the mat is chopped into the resin, which is then heated. It’s set and a chemical process hardens the panels that come down the line into a particular shape depending on the tooling. The panels are then cut to length as they go down the line.
Generally speaking, FRP panels aren’t necessarily meant to replace metal or vice versa. “Both materials have their place, and they’re not interchangeable,” says Tobias. “It’s very common for FRP panels to nestle with metal; a lot of our panels are designed with that in mind.”
Dipcraft is a small business, catering to many customers via phone who want to either nestle existing panel beneath window panes while or want to replace the panes entirely. “Whatever situation they ask for, we email them some pictures of existing jobs so they get ideas on how to do it,” says Tobias.
Certain elemental factors also play a part in how the panel will be manufactured. Because panels can be made in different weights and profiles, some are stronger by virtue of the geometry of the panel. Weather is also a factor, as the panels are made differently depending on the climate. “There are considerations depending on the grade of the panel: the heavier the panel, the longer it’ll last in the field,” says Tobias.