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Beauty and Brawn: FRP Performs in Inspired Interiors

Fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) is a strong choice for creating inspired interiors, thanks to its combination of high durability and good looks.


Fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) is a strong choice for creating inspired interiors, thanks to its combination of high durability and good looks.

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Thanks to modern manufacturing processes, ordinary materials can now be transformed into extraordinary design elements—high-end products that provide a virtually unlimited palette of custom accents for today’s contemporary interior environments. Panels made of fiber-reinforced plastic, or FRP, are great examples.

Long known for its durability and performance, FRP’s substrate and surfacing applications make it the ideal combination of beauty and brawn. It has proven to be as alluring as it is strong in kitchens, restrooms, dining rooms, offices, classrooms, healthcare environments, hallways, recreational areas and other multipurpose spaces.

An added benefit is that using FRP doesn’t require breaking the bank. It is an affordable alternative that can pay long-term dividends in terms of color, finish, style and value.

what is frp?

Learning Objectives

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After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Discuss the composition of fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP)

  • Identify the performance benefits of FRP

  • Explain the aesthetic properties of FRP

  • Describe the applications for FRP
FRP is a composite material comprised of a plastic matrix strengthened and reinforced with fiberglass. Using a mold to create the finished product, fiberglass is generally thermoset with a combination of plastic or epoxy resins, organic fillers and fiberglass reinforcements engineered to achieve a desired performance. The resin—usually either polyester, vinyl ester or phenolic resin—is what bonds the fibers together. Once this bond has occurred, the FRP does not soften, melt or flow when heated. However, if the bonding occurs within a mold, the shape of the mold will be formed, and cannot be reformed. Molds can be designed in any shape or size, which means FRP products can be made in virtually any shape and size as well.

The resin also serves to protect against damage, and is generally chemical and fire resistant. The amount of resin required in the manufacturing of FRP is reduced by the use of “filler materials,” which can be cheaper than resin while still providing smoothness and crack resistance.

Additives also can be introduced to further increase the material’s durability, to make it easier to process or adapt the FRP for specific uses, or to enhance the material’s resistance to ultraviolet radiation.

Because FRP is also lightweight, it often requires less labor for installation and lighter supporting structures or substrates. Consequently, the cost of construction and installation is reduced, while the speed is increased.


Performance Benefits of FRP

  • Ultra rigid
  • Chemical resistant
  • Abrasion and scratch resistant
  • Eliminates need for painting or recladding
  • Few problems relative to weather conditions
  • Superior corrosion resistance
  • Affordability
  • Mold- and mildew-free; moisture resistant
  • Lightweight and easy to handle
  • Skid-resistant properties
  • Non-conductive
  • Insulating, with thermal expansion properties
  • Nonflammable; choose Class A or Class C fire rated options
  • Can help absorb equipment vibration

Aesthetic Qualities of FRP

  • Unlimited color choices
  • Unlimited image choices
  • Flat, curved, ribbed, corrugated or perforated panel options
  • Variety of thicknesses
  • Varied degrees of translucency and opaqueness
  • Long life-cycle
When cured, FRP holds its shape because of the resin, while the fiberglass delivers strength and stiffness. It is also important to note that the resin has additional corrosion- and heat-resistant properties not found in any type of metal products. This technology has led to increased durability and strength in corrosive environments and industrial applications.

Quality assurance is regulated by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), an internationally recognized developer of voluntary consensus standards. The ASTM standard divides FRP into several types and grades, depending on the material’s weather resistance and transparency, and requires testing for water absorption, tensile strength, linear thermal expansion and flexural strength.

beyond plain jane Durable doesn’t have to mean dull.

FRP panels can be textured, smooth or translucent, and are available in a variety of thicknesses. Designers can choose from hundreds of colors or fusion-printed designs and images. This process involves “infusing” color, digital designs or imagery into a proprietary coating applied to the base materials. Because it begins as a computer file, the infused design can be just about anything, including any number of stock patterns and images. The colors in stock images may be altered and customized for maximum impact. FRP panels can also be made to simulate the look of natural materials such as tile, sandstone, linen, wood and pebble-embossed surfaces—yet their performance often surpasses many of these more traditional materials.

The infusion process literally transfers and embeds the colors and images into the coating bonded to the substrate, leaving all of the original properties of the substrate. No further treatment or coating is required; the decorative layer is the final surface.

On translucent panels, the image is applied to the back of the panel, creating an incredibly durable carrier for the design. This is often specified for spaces where a high degree of optical depth is desired. Fusion-imaged translucent FRP panels are also ideal for backlit applications.

It’s important to note that fusion imaging doesn’t alter the inherent properties of FRP panels, so they remain ideal choices for sanitary applications that call for moisture proofing and impact resistance, such as food preparation areas, bathrooms and other wet environments.PageBreak

a proven performer FRP has a 60-year track record of delivering proven performance in a variety of high-traffic areas.

Kitchens and Food Prep Areas. FRP panels pass sanitary codes and are easy to clean, making them especially suitable for food prep areas that are required to meet stringent food safety standards.

A pizzeria in Greensboro, N.C., (above left) wanted a brightly colored backdrop to match the lively atmosphere in its kitchen. Instead of choosing a tiled wall surface with hard-to-clean grout, the walls are actually imaged FRP. Not only is the FRP easy to clean, it is also naturally mold resistant, making it the perfect choice for high-traffic food prep areas.

Retail. FRP panels not only deliver the durability needed for retail spaces—they also play a supporting role in delivering enticing store spaces that don’t require spending a lot of money.

Designers in charge of remodeling the gift shop at the Phoenix Zoo (above) wanted to use Moroccan floor tiles for wainscoting around the walls and

toe kicks on gondolas, but it was far too expensive. Real tiles were scanned and imaged onto smooth, white FRP, cut into strips the same size as tiles, and installed and grouted on the walls and around the bottom of the displays for toe kicks. The result: a vivid, authentic tile look with the durability of FRP and a very low cost relative to real tile. FRP panels were also imaged with Persian rug patterns and used to simulate a traditional Moroccan wood ceiling on this project.

Bathrooms. Impervious to water, as well as being mold and mildew resistant, FRP is ideal for countertops, shower enclosures and tub surrounds.

The images and colors from nature’s palette provide the backdrop to the custom elements of this bathroom setting (see page 156). Translucent FRP panels installed in framed doors are infused with a wild grass motif, allowing light to enter the shower enclosure while still affording an element of privacy. The shower’s FRP walls are imaged with a tile pattern in soft browns and beiges, and accented with a decorative mural inset. The result is a design that is extremely durable, easy to clean and affordable—and truly one-of-a-kind.

Laboratories. Not only is it chemical resistant and easy to clean, but FRP also helps absorb equipment vibrations—extremely important in clean room applications.

Education. FRP was made to withstand the high abuse in daycare centers, academic settings, locker rooms and dormitories. Colors and motifs can be tailored to enhance the design themes of spaces that appeal to all ages.

Healthcare. From nursing homes to doctor’s offices to exam rooms and hospitals, FRP’s nonporous surfaces are easy to clean and help prevent the spread of germs. Its durable surfaces are ideal for high-traffic areas, and can withstand the beatings given by cumbersome medical equipment. A wide array of design choices also enhances the nurturing atmosphere desired in today’s healthcare environments.

Hallways and Corridors. FRP resists scratching and is highly durable, making it the perfect wall protection in high-traffic areas. Panels can be used as wainscoting or to cover an accent wall.

Room Dividers, Doors and Modesty Panels. Translucent panels make beautiful room dividers and modesty panels, and can even be backlit for added drama. If a backing is added, the colors become even more vibrant.

Room dividers made of FRP perform a dual purpose in this high-end restaurant (see page 153). Not only do they partition the room into intimate and inviting spaces, but they also serve as stunning pieces of art and an essential element to the restaurant’s breathtaking and memorable décor. Light is gently diffused through the translucent panels to keep the space open and airy. The FRP room dividers are complemented by a vibrant aluminum wall treatment with a unique swirled effect that plays beautifully with light and position.

installation and maintenance The installation of FRP is simple and straightforward. Panels are usually installed using adhesive or with nylon drive rivets. Prior to installation, they should be stored inside in a cool, well-ventilated, dry area on the original shipping pallet, not on a concrete floor or any other surface that emits moisture. They should also be laid flat, not on edge. Additionally, because FRP panels will expand and contract during temperature and humidity changes, it is important to allow the panels to acclimate to room temperature and humidity conditions at least 24 to 48 hours prior to installation.

To achieve optimal wall protection, FRP wall panels must fully bond to the wall’s surface. Voids between the FRP and the wall surface can cause the FRP to release from the wall. This allows moisture to penetrate the seams of the panels, causing moisture damage. Using the proper tools to install, cut and drill the FRP will keep the wall panels in place.

A fine-tooth saw blade is recommended to cut panels most effectively, while swivel-head shears may be used for small cutouts or trims. A diamond-coated or carbide drill bit is recommended for pre-drilled fastener holes. If the installation requires adhesive, a notched trowel will spread the FRP adhesive to the proper depth. A laminate roller should be used to obtain maximum contact between panels, adhesive and substrate.

If trim strips are not being used, the edges should be properly trimmed with a router to mitigate the showing of “white lines” from the factory edges of the panel. A commercial high-speed router using a laminate trim bit with ball bearing, carbide tip and roller tip is recommended.

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If fasteners are being used, nylon drive rivets or corrosion-resistant screws are appropriate. An extensive line of hardware is available for FRP panels, including tracks, ceiling and floor connectors, and wire and panel connectors. Panels should be pre-drilled using a drill bit that is ¹/8 to ¼-inch larger than the fastener. During installation, holes drilled into the substrate should also be made ¹/8 to ¼-inch larger. This allows room for expansion and contraction of the panels.

The final step in installation is to apply a silicone sealant in all molding and around all panel edges, fasteners and fixtures to prevent moisture from penetrating behind panels. Color-matched caulking can also be used to finish the edges or be used between panels rather than trim strips.

FRP panels require minimal maintenance; cleaning on a regular basis with a mild non-abrasive cleaner will prevent soil and dirt build-up. Hard water deposits can be removed with a 10 percent solution of acetic acid in cold water. FRP panels are best cleaned with a sponge or soft brush versus a wire brush or other abrasive pads that will scratch the surface.