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Differences in type and testing of fire insulation panels and facades

12 April 2018

The Grenfell Tower disaster sent massive shockwaves through the fire-insulation business in terms of questions about fire performance of materials, Kingspan’s Tony Ryan told delegates in the Fire & Evacuation Theatre at the Fire Safety Event this afternoon (11 April).

Speaking specifically about insulation panels, Tony said Kingspan demonstrates the fire performance of its products using large-scale assembly testing, which, he claimed, is the most robust and reliable way to test.

He added that Kingspan doesn’t manufacture aluminium composite material (ACM) and pointed out that EN 14509 describes what an insulation panel is, “and an ACM panel is not it”. He explained that the core type in an ACM panel is not an insulant. “There are three core types,” he said, “polyethylene, fire-retardant polyethylene and mineral. All three have different fire-performance characteristics. Tests such as the large-scale test to BS 8414 have shown that the fire-retardant version performs far better.”

He went on to explain that ACM panels can contribute to rapid spread of fire, irrespective of what the insulation material is, and pointed out that a number of recent high-rise fires have been linked to PE-core ACM panels.

Returning to the importance of large-scale testing, Tony reminded delegates that, after Grenfell, the Government engaged BRE to carry out seven large-scale tests, the results of which are now being used to determine what is safe and what isn’t. “To ensure a robust regulatory system,” said Tony, “ideally, everything should be tested to large-scale but that’s not practical. So, at Kingspan, we believe there should be a place for assessment within the building regulation system, underpinned by large-scale tests.”

But many tests are still carried out on a small scale – for example, for tests to EN 13501-1 (fire classification of construction and building elements), Tony pointed out that “just 50g of material is used in the test to get an A1 or A2 rating. That doesn’t reflect a fully assembled façade system or test how products interact under severe fire load.”

According to Tony, BR 135 to BS 8414 (measures fire spread and fire propagation) is a more robust and stringent test. He explained: “It uses a 9m test rig, resembling two floors above the combustion chamber. Flame exposure is for 30 minutes and peak heat release can reach 3 MW. Another robust test, on the insurance side this time, is LCPB 1181 parts 1 and 2, which measures spread of fire and propagation through insulation.”

He also briefly discussed FM Approvals tests (4880 and 4881), under which the best-performing products are classed to the tallest height.

Tony wrapped up his presentation by reminding delegates that Kingspan has a wealth of case-study information and videos available to anyone who would like to find out more.