Aesthetic Appeal

As designers become more aware of FRP as a façade option, they’re exploring more than just unique shapes. “Another area where BFG spends a lot of effort is in creating particular finishes,” Aljishi says. Designers may be willing to accept FRP’s unique characteristics, but many want traditional stone or glass-like finishes. These finishes can be difficult to achieve, particularly when it comes to ensuring durability to a complex post-applied finish that matches the lifetime expectations of the composite material.

By way of example, Aljishi points to the chrome-like finish required for the FRP panels installed within the Avenues Mall in Kuwait, completed in 2017. Walkways throughout the large retail center are topped by a series of 192 highly reflective composite panels affixed to the inside of the roof structure’s main trusses.

BFG manufactured these FRP PET foam sandwich panels using CNC tooling and an open mold hand lay-up process. When assembled, the 14 full-size cowlings measured approximately 85 x 39 feet. The real challenge, however, was achieving the mirrored finish. A metal solution was ruled out as being too costly and heavy to suspend. That pushed the designer to consider FRP.

BFG’s process development team, in conjunction with a U.S.-based specialty coating technology provider, finished the FRP panels with a patented spray coating system. The resulting gleaming panels are fire resistant to BS 476-7 Class 2, the British surface spread flame test.

Structural Reinforcement

While FRP panels serve a largely decorative purpose in many vertical construction projects, structural use of FRP has been more limited. Some fabricators are exploring ways to boost the structural properties of panels. Bill Kreysler, president of custom FRP engineering and fabrication firm Kreysler & Associates in American Canyon, Calif., has spearheaded numerous innovative projects in vertical construction, including 1,500 uniquely-shaped GFRP panels for the façade of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art under construction in Los Angeles. “We’re currently working on a weatherproof wall panel [for another project] so FRP could be used as the building envelope as well as the decorative skin,” he says.

One area where FRP is more likely to see an uptick as a structural material is in use as a reinforcement in concrete foundations and masonry structures. Concrete, which has relatively low tensile strength, is typically reinforced with steel rebar to add greater strength for thinner, longer, less-supported slabs. However, as billions of dollars’ worth of crumbling infrastructure across the United States indicates, steel reinforcement has problems. Chief among these is corrosion. Although concrete may offer some natural corrosion protection, this wears down over time.