Desmond Alie, MD, Intastor

Q: How big is the insulated panel manufacturing industry in SA and the rest of the continent?
A: It’s difficult to answer because although insulated modular panel structures are traditionally used in the cold-room industry, we are always looking for innovative ways to use the product in different applications. So, we aren’t limited to any specific industry. In Africa, however, the traditional commercial cold-storage market is challenging.

Some 40% of all harvested agricultural produce is lost due to lack of the necessary infrastructure to sustain the cold chain. This, in a tough economy, has manifested in some stagnancy but we do anticipate it improving.

Growth is expected to derive from being able to tap into fast-growing markets, such as housing, healthcare and education, particularly because of the trend towards the need for versatile modular building solutions. One example is the South African subsidised housing market, which embraces cost-effective innovative building technology (IBT) solutions.

Q: Where are the IBT opportunities?
A: For the 2018/19 financial year, Parliament has allocated R32.2 billion to the Department of Human Settlements, with one-third earmarked for IBT housing projects. That equates to a potential R10.7 billion. We are already seeing this reflected in our sales performance and expect IBT solutions for the housing market to constitute a key area of growth.

The biggest hurdle in the subsidised housing and modular building markets is the public perception that IBT solutions are not of the same quality as the traditional brick-and-mortar variety, using the so-called ‘knock test’ as proof, when in fact they offer superior value and quality in most cases.

With this in mind, it is not enough for systems to simply comply with structural and aesthetic requirements. This has opened the door for us to use different cladding surfaces on insulated panel structures in a variety of decorative finishes.

Q: How are insulation applications different for residential and commercial storage?
A: There are many crossovers within commercial and residential applications today. In certain commercial applications, unique temperature control requirements often warrant an insulation method that is not common to residential applications. For example, some commercial facilities require not only certain thermal qualities but also airtight seals, which is not a requirement for residential developments.

That said, the key difference with a commercial storage application is temperature related. Some commercial storage structures have to maintain temperatures ranging from -35°C to +35°C with, for instance, an additional requirement of being completely airtight. To cater for this, insulation properties need to be tailored within the manufacturing process by varying insulation thicknesses to achieve the stipulated insulation outcome. Employing the appropriate heating and cooling technologies can manage this process.

Q: What about IBT housing?
A: Modular IBT structures utilise a combination of expanded polystyrene bonded into steel skins. We also use an ‘eco board’ that is incorporated into panels, resulting in high thermal efficiency, structural strength and fire-resistant properties.

Another common insulation method for walling in housing is typically based on expanded polystyrene (EPS) beads, which are used in the manufacture of concrete blocks.

Q: What are the modern insulation trends?
A: There is now a plethora of insulation materials available, depending on the application required.

These range from the more traditional type – where fibreglass material, mineral wool and other plastic or natural fibre material is used (common to residential housing) – to more modern methods, including sprayed foam and Foam-In-Place, where lightweight concrete or ceiling compounds are used. Within the commercial cold-storage space, the use of either EPS or polyurethane remains the most common. EPS, which Intastor produces at its dedicated plant, is one of the most economical insulating materials available.

Q: How can the same insulation method be applied for both summer and winter temperatures?
A: A good insulating material resists the passage of heat. This is expressed as the material’s R-value, or thermal resistance. The higher the R-value of the insulating material, the lower the heat transfer.

In winter, the thermal properties of modular-building systems minimise heat transfer from the inside to the outside of the structure, thereby maintaining internal temperatures. In summer, a well-insulated roof area prevents heat transfer from the roof into a building, thus reducing a rise in internal temperature. Combined with insulated walls, there is a further reduction of external heat transfer into the building.

Q: Is insulation considered ‘green’?
A: Intastor products comprise between 15% and 20% recycled material, with the steel and EPS portion being 100% recyclable. Although the polystyrene utilised cannot be considered green, we don’t believe that this poses an environmental problem given its long-term life application.

By Kerry Dimmer
Image: Janine Petzer

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