With an eye on convenient assembly, long-lasting and low-maintenance products, composite high-technology processed materials offer a variety of finishes and clear advantages of weatherproof and termite-resistant solutions. Many of these products in vogue today actually entered the market several decades ago, but are now allowing increased customisation as well as sustainable solutions.
The increasing acceptance of composites can be attributed to their convenience: added features offered over natural materials, wide range of finishes, better resistance in outdoor conditions and standardised formats that allow easy systems applications. Brands like Everwood offer wood-plastic composite (WPC) products primarily for outdoor use in facades, railings and fins, many of which come in extruded sections.
While the pandemic and lockdown ushered in a new craving for travel and getaways, the appreciation of family time also increased. People rediscovered their loved ones, and that meant enjoying time with family in inspiring spaces. At Floor Sketch, a brand started by Rajesh M. in 2019, they suddenly found a revived interest in pergolas and gazebos. Floor Sketch’s pergolas are made of WPC, a material that can take weathering and withstand harsh climates. WPC has the advantage of looking like wood, but it is waterproof and maintenance-free with a warranty on material life and expectancy. Floor Sketch offers customisation for up to 16 feet. Says Rajesh, “We have 14 pergola designs that customers may not know about. They can be fitted into terraces and gardens depending on your requirement.”
Stone polymer composite (SPC), a limestone-based material for interlocking floors, both termite-proof and water-proof, came into the spotlight just before the pandemic and has fast become a trend. For a client from Germany who was in an urgent hurry to replace her floor tiles in a Chennai apartment, Floor Sketch installed SPC flooring overnight. Floor Sketch has green certifications for floor, ceiling, interior and exterior products.
Aluminium composite panels (ACP) have been around for more than 50 years but the demand in India increased with the rapid growth of the IT industry. A number of global brands such as Alucobond, Alubond, Alpolic and Aludecor have proliferated the world market. Now, ACP is finding extensive uses, catering to architects who endeavour to give their clients iconic buildings, says Siddharth A. Shah, South Zonal Head of Eurobond, a leading ACP manufacturer.
Shah sits at his desk with a Pantone card and an RAL colour chart. “Customers today want their buildings to stand out. We can find a perfect colour match — be it the shade of your button or your phone!” While the innovations in ACP began with the need for long life, low maintenance, UV resistance, higher requirements of fire regulations and waterproof materials for external curtain walls, the composite is now popular for rendering good-looking fascia cladding for buildings — the ‘skin of architecture’. Eurobond, for instance, offers 380 designs and colours. As if that’s not enough, they can also customise for brands, as long as they get a minimum order of 15,000 sq.ft. They have introduced 32 new shades this year in the series of Matt, Sand, Clay and Marble.
Eurobond’s composite panels are made by sandwiching an LDPE (low density polyethylene) core or a revolutionary material called FR (fire resistant) between roll form sheets of magnesium aluminium alloy. Post-pandemic with the renewed interest in sustainability, they have started to supply a 100% recyclable ACP sandwiched with an aluminium honeycomb structure, great for lightness, strength and rigidity. Further, Shah says there’s a trend of residential clients desiring false ceilings made of ACP, traditionally preferred for commercial building.
Make it without wood
While sustainable practitioners still abhor the idea of composites that mimic natural materials such as wood and stone, Reliance’s RelWood uses patented German technology to manufacture NFPC (Natural Fiber Polymer Composite) board that is waterproof, low maintenance, termite-proof and recyclable properties. The material can also be thermoformed.
In Chennai, Indowud’s story is about finding a sustainable path by making forays with a ‘zero wood’ board. When the senior B.L. Bengani, who founded Uniply, exited the industry in 2015, the Benganis were determined to find sustainable and eco-friendly options. Director Varun Bengani elaborates: “We wanted a change and that’s where the idea to use composite materials came from. We decided to use agricultural husk to combat tree-cutting and deforestation.” Not many are encouraged to add agricultural husk to their product as it is highly abrasive and damages machine parts. The Benganis challenged the standard WPC products which use resin:wood in 100:0 - 20 ratio. In 2019, after two years of research, they began to manufacture their product Indowud NFC (Natural Fibre Composite), which uses over 110 kg of agricultural husk for every 100 kg of resin. This high fibre content gives high strength and durability.
A sustainable, eco-friendly and GreenPro certified product, Indowud can replace plywood and MDF in many applications. Indowud NFC Boards are currently available in two densities: 700 and 800 Kg/CBM. A typical 18mm thick board cost is on a par with the best quality plywood. In addition to wardrobe, kitchen, furniture applications, it can also be used in exterior facades. Major advantages are that Indowud is completely termite-proof and waterproof, resistant to corrosion, decay, moulding and fungus attacks. As long as the guidelines set by the manufacturers are adhered to, you can push the boundaries to make customised products. The boards have been used by architects to create non-standard curved elements through thermoforming for furniture, staircases and more. Says Varun Bengani, “The board has infinite possibilities for both exterior and interior and you can make any kind of furniture.”
The writer is a brand strategist with a background in design from SAIC and NID.