Aluminum Composite Panel (ACP) The reason behind deadly fire spread

A devastating fire occurred in Grenfell Tower, London on June 14, 2017. More than 80 people lost their lives and many got injured. It was Britain’s deadliest fire in decades. Similar incident took place at Address Hotel, Dubai on New Year evening of 2016 where no causality was reported. It was revealed during the investigation that Aluminium type cladding, which was less fire resistant was used for finishing outer facade where such incident occurred. Moreover, cladding can create cavities which in some cases can cause a chimney effect, drawing flames up the cavity if there are no fire barriers.

Aluminum composite panel is any structure made of three layers: a low-density core and a thin skin-layer bonded to each side. The core and skin materials can vary widely and the Core may be a honeycomb or a solid filling. The solid filling can be of plastic building materials. ACPs are extensively used on outer facade of buildings because of two reasons - the outer facade can be finished up very fast by using ACP sheets and maintenance is very less as compared to other alternatives.

ACPs initially manufactured were non-combustible in nature. This product become popular and mass production started in different parts of the world. The quality of ACP production was compromised at many places to make the product cheaper. Manufacturers started adding combustible ingredients like plastic for making ACP.

A majority of the external cladding systems currently in use all over the world poses a serious threat to life or property in the event of fire. Almost certainly there will also be combustible insulation present, open voids behind cladding and absence of fire stopping at floor levels, compounding the risk. It Is, therefore. high time we got rid of the use of ACPs during construction. Though, it is difficult to envisage owners voluntarily stripping off entire existing aluminium composite panel facades and replacing them with fire resistant panels, as the cost would be prohibitive. Partial replacement with adequate barrier bands of fire resistant panels to stop fire from spreading may be adopted for such building. However, there are some conscious builders who have already started removal of all ACPs used in old complexes in the interest of safety of the occupants, employees and visitors.

S. K. Dheri – Convener,
NBC Part 4 ‘Fire and Life Safety’