Understanding, Predicting and Improving the Performance of Foam Filled Sandwich Panels in Large Scale Fire Resistance Tests

  • Andrew Foster

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis presents the results of research on sandwich panel construction, with the aims of developing tools for modelling sandwich panel fire performance and hence to use the tools to aid the development of sandwich panel construction with improved fire resistance. The research focuses on sandwich panels made of thin steel sheeting and a polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam core. For non-loadbearing sandwich panel construction, fire resistance is measured in terms of thermal insulation and integrity only. However, these two parameters are affected by mechanical performance of sandwich panel construction due to the high distortion and large deformation nature of sandwich panel construction under fire attack. Therefore, it is necessary to consider both thermal and mechanical performances of sandwich panels under fire conditions.The work in this thesis includes development of a thermal conductivity model for PIR foam as this thermal property is one of the key values in determining heat transfer through sandwich panels; this thermal conductivity model is based on the effective thermal conductivity of porous foams proposed by Glicksman (1994) and includes the effects of polymer decomposition and increases in foam cell size. It is validated against fire tests carried out on PIR sandwich panels 80mm and 100mm thick with steel facings of thickness 0.5mm.A large 3D sequentially coupled thermal-stress model of a full scale fire test has been developed in the commercial finite element analysis (FEA) software ABAQUS to provide insight into the way sandwich panels behave in a fire resistance test and also to assess different modelling techniques. Aspects and stages of the simulation that agree well with test data are explained. Limitations of the ABAQUS software for simulating sandwich panel fire tests are highlighted; namely, it is not possible to simulate the correct radiation heat transfer through panel joints, as cavity radiation cannot be specified in a fully coupled thermal-stress analysis.Joints are key components of sandwich panel construction. In order to obtain temperature development data for modelling joints, a number of fire tests have been carried out. These fire tests were conducted with different joint configurations and panel thicknesses under realistic fire conditions using timber cribs. The joint fire tests revealed significant ablation of the foam core within the joints of sandwich panels at high temperatures. At the beginning of fire exposure, the joint temperature on the unexposed surface was lower than that on the panel due to the better insulation property of air compared to the foam. However, as the joint gap increased due to ablation of the foam, the joint temperatures became higher than in the panel. A numerical simulation model has been created to investigate this behaviour.Using the aforementioned thermal model, numerical simulations have been carried out to examine the influences of possible changes to sandwich panel design on sandwich panel construction fire performance. It was suggested that if the maximum gap in the joints can be limited to 5mm, for example, by applying intumescent coating strips within the sandwich panel joints to counter the increasing gap formed due to core ablation, then the joint temperature on the unexposed surface would not exceed that of the panel surface, hence the joint would cease to be the weak link. To increase the panel fire resistance, the use of graphite particles in the PIR foam formulation may be considered to lower the contribution of radiative heat transfer within the foam cells by reducing the transmissivity of the cell walls. Graphite particles may offer considerable increases in the thermal resistance of PIR foam at high temperatures by limiting the radiation contribution which dominates heat transfer above 300oC.
Date of Award1 Aug 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorYong Wang (Supervisor)


  • Sandwich Panel, ABAQUS, Polyisocyanurate, Fire Resistance, Fire Test, Thermal Conductivity

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