Vitreous enamelled steel panels in architectural applications

Killarney Mall – Johannesburg (South Africa)

The history of vitreous enamelled steel goes back at least 4000 years to Egyptian times when it was first used in ornamental jewellery.

Today, the application of vitreous enamel on steel has grown to include sanitaryware, hollowware and appliances, writing surfaces, signs, modular cloakroom cubicles and architectural cladding.

Vitreous enameled steel panels combine the traditional properties and attributes of glass with the strength and fabrication flexibility of steel.

Panels are used in external cladding applications, on buildings where a low maintenance, durable, colour finish is required.

Internally, vitreous enamel is an ideal choice in high traffic areas where other less durable products may be prone to vandalism and wear.

In addition, panels can also be used as infill and spandrel panels in curtain and window wall systems.

Vitreous enamel is a versatile material with a number of unique properties that make it a wonderful medium and allows designers to address most cladding conditions and requirements:

  • Variety of colours
  • Colour-fastness
  • Resistance to corrosion
  • Hygiene
  • Resistance to abrasion
  • Resistance to chemicals
  • Heat and fire-resistance
  • Resistance to thermal shock
  • Vermin-proof
  • Acoustic and thermal insulation
  • Dielectric properties
  • Low maintenance
  • Environmental issues
Northbury School– London (United Kingdom) Northbury School– London (United Kingdom)

In general, a cladding system can be broken down into three basic components:

  • The cladding panels
  • A steel framework to provide flexibility and adjustment for the alignment of the panels during installation and to compensate for on site tolerance in the building work
  • The joint between individual panels, where a variety of details are available based on the design requirements and performance criteria of the cladding system.

Although simple flat sheet panels can be used in specific applications and under certain conditions, the basic construction of a vitreous enamel panel consists of a front plate of vitreous enamelled steel, a core and a balancing backer.

In respect of architectural applications, two basic panel types are recognised:

  • Light Gauge Panels — originally designed as infill panels, light gauge panels are also used in internal cladding and external fascia applications. The thickness of the enamelling quality steel varies between 0.5 and 0.7 mm.
  • Heavy Gauge Panels — Used to create more complex profiles that include curves, corners and flat profiles, the panels are pre-fabricated to the required size and shape by cutting and notching steel sheets, bending the returns and flanges, and finally welding and finishing off the corners prior to enamelling. The thickness of the enamelling quality steel is 1.5mm or 1.6mm and a variety of fixing and joint details can be offered to the designer, depending on the application and the aesthetic parameters.

Sir John Rogerson Quay - Dublin (Ireland)

Cladding panels are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. In general, individual panels are manufactured with a maximum width of 1220 mm and a maximum length of 3000 mm. Steel sheet sizes and furnace aperture can also provide limitations and it is always advisable to involve the manufacturer at the design stage of the project.

The full White Paper that this editorial is based on is available for download below. Written by Cristian Cottino of Vitrex, the document is useful for anyone considering the use of vitreous enamelled steel panels.

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