Title:
MULTIPLE PANEL COLUMN AND METHODS
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A support column and method for making a support column, the support column having a plurality of panels arranged side by side. The panels each have a core of insulative material and outer laminate layers laminated to the core. The panels are adhered to one another.



Inventors:
Schwartau, Ulrich (Port d Andratx, ES)
Application Number:
13/804777
Publication Date:
09/18/2014
Filing Date:
03/14/2013
Assignee:
MILLPORT ASSOCIATES S.A. (City of Panama, PA)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
156/60
International Classes:
E04C3/36
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
MAESTRI, PATRICK J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
RENNER OTTO BOISSELLE & SKLAR, LLP (CLEVELAND, OH, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A support column comprising: a plurality of panels arranged side by side, each panel comprising: a core having a top, a bottom, a first side and a second side; and a first outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the first side; a second outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the second side; bonding material adhering each of the panels to at least one adjacent panel; a top laminate layer at least substantially covering the tops of the panels; and a bottom laminate layer at least substantially covering the bottoms of the panels.

2. The support column of claim 1 wherein the core is comprised of insulating materials.

3. The support column of any one of claims 1-2 wherein the core is comprised of at least one of: polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, polystyrene hard foam, Styrofoam® material, phenol foam, cellulose material foam, polypropylene, or impregnated paper.

4. The support column of any one of claims 1-3 wherein at least one of the first outer laminate layer or the second outer laminate layer is comprised of composite materials.

5. The support column of any one of claims 1-4 wherein at least one of the top laminate layer or the bottom laminate layer is comprised of the same material as at least one of the first outer laminate layer or the second laminate layer.

6. The support column of any one of claims 1-5 wherein the composite materials comprise at least one matrix material and at least one filler material.

7. The support column of claim 6 wherein the matrix materials comprises one or more resin.

8. The support column of any one of claims 6-7 wherein the filler material comprises at least one of: fiberglass, glass fabric, carbon fiber, aramid fiber, or natural fiber.

9. The support beam of any one of claims 1-8 wherein the outer layer and core form a cavity and wherein the cavity is at least partially filled with bonding material.

10. The support beam of any one of claim 9 wherein the cavity is generally triangular.

11. The support beam of any one of claims 9-10 wherein the length of the cavity is at least approximately seven times the thickness of the outer layer.

12. A method for forming a support column from a plurality of panels comprising: arranging a plurality of panels side by side, each panel having a core, a top, a bottom, a first side and a second side, and further having a first outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the first side and a second outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the second side, wherein the second side of a first panel is adjacent to the first side of a second panel; joining the plurality of panels with bonding material at each of the first side and second side of the plurality of panels, except for the first side of the first of the plurality of panels and the second side of the last of the plurality of panels; joining a top laminate layer to the top of at least one of the plurality of panels; and joining a bottom laminate layer to the bottom of at least one of the plurality of panels.

13. The method of claim 12 wherein at least one of the step of joining the top laminate layer to the top of at least one of the plurality of panels or the step of joining the bottom laminate layer to the bottom of at least one of the plurality of panels comprises using bonding material.

14. The method of any one of claims 12-13 wherein at least one of the step of joining the top laminate layer to the top of at least one of the plurality of panels or the step of joining the bottom laminate layer to the bottom of at least one of the plurality of panels comprises using matrix material.

15. The method of any one of claims 12-14 further comprising joining the first outer laminate layer to the core of one of the plurality of panels and joining the second outer laminate layer to the core of one of the plurality of panels.

Description:

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to constructing buildings, and more particularly, to a support column formed from a plurality of adjacent panels having insulative cores and outer laminate layers and methods of making support columns.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

There is an increasing demand for lower-cost buildings such as houses, warehouses and offices. The demand for lower cost buildings is particularly strong in developing countries where economic resources may be limited and natural resources and raw materials may be scarce. For example, in areas of the Middle East or Africa, conventional building materials such as cement, brick, wood or steel may not be readily available or, if available, may be very expensive or low quality. In other areas of the world, poverty may make it too costly for people to build houses or other buildings with conventional materials.

The demand for lower-cost housing also is high in areas afflicted by war or natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornados, floods, and the like. These devastating events often lead to widespread destruction of large numbers of buildings and houses, especially when they occur in densely populated regions. The rebuilding of areas affected by these events can cause substantial strain on the supply chain for raw materials, making them difficult or even impossible to obtain. Furthermore, natural disasters often recur and affect the same areas. If a destroyed building is rebuilt using the same conventional materials, it stands to reason that the building may be destroyed or damaged again during a similar event.

It is generally desirable to increase speed of construction and to minimize construction costs. Prefabricated or preassembled components can streamline production and reduce both the time and the cost of building construction. Prefabricated buildings, however, are made from conventional materials that may be scarce or expensive to obtain. Thus, there exists a need for alternative materials and techniques for constructing buildings that use advanced material technologies to increase the speed of construction and also reduce or lower the ownership costs.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to one aspect of the invention, a support column includes a plurality of panels arranged side by side, each panel comprising: a core having a top, a bottom, a first side and a second side. Each of the panels further includes a first outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the first side a second outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the second side; bonding material adhering each of the panels to at least one adjacent panel; a top laminate layer at least substantially covering the tops of the panels; and a bottom laminate layer at least substantially covering the bottoms of the panels.

In addition, the core may include insulating materials. For example, the core may include at least one of: polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, polystyrene hard foam, Styrofoam® material, phenol foam, cellulose material foam, polypropylene, or impregnated paper.

Also, the outer laminate layer may include composite materials and at least one of the top laminate layer or the bottom laminate layer may include of the same material as at least one of the first outer laminate layer or the second laminate layer. The composite materials may include at least one matrix material and at least one filler material. The matrix materials may include one or more resin and the filler material may include at least one of: fiberglass, glass fabric, carbon fiber, aramid fiber, or natural fiber.

According to another aspect of the invention a method for forming a support column from a plurality of panels includes arranging a plurality of panels side by side, each panel having a core, a top, a bottom, a first side and a second side, and further having a first outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the first side and a second outer laminate layer at least substantially covering the second side, wherein the second side of a first panel is adjacent to the first side of a second panel; joining the plurality of panels with bonding material at each of the first side and second side of the plurality of panels, except for the first side of the first of the plurality of panels and the second side of the last of the plurality of panels; joining a top laminate layer to the top of at least one of the plurality of panels; and joining a bottom laminate layer to the bottom of at least one of the plurality of panels.

In addition, at least one of the step of joining the top laminate layer to the top of at least one of the plurality of panels or the step of joining the bottom laminate layer to the bottom of at least one of the plurality of panels may include using bonding material or matrix material.

The method may further include joining the first outer laminate layer to the core of one of the plurality of panels and joining the second outer laminate layer to the core of one of the plurality of panels prior to arranging the panels side by side.

These and further features of the present invention will be apparent with reference to the following description and attached drawings. In the description and drawings, particular embodiments of the invention have been disclosed in detail as being indicative of some of the ways in which the principles of the invention may be employed, but it is understood that the invention is not limited correspondingly in scope. Rather, the invention includes all changes, modifications and equivalents coming within the spirit and terms of the claims appended hereto.

In the detailed description that follows, like components have been given the same reference numerals regardless of whether they are shown in different embodiments of the invention. To illustrate the present invention in a clear and concise manner, the drawings may not necessarily be to scale and certain features may be shown in somewhat schematic form. Certain terminology is used herein to describe the different embodiments of the invention. Such terminology is used only for convenience when referring to the figures. For example, “upward,” “downward,” “above,” or “below” merely describe directions in the configurations shown in the figures. The components can be oriented in any direction and the terminology should therefore be interpreted to include such variations. The dimensions provided herein are exemplary and are not intended to be limiting in scope. Furthermore, while described primarily with respect to house construction, it will be appreciated that the concepts described herein are equally applicable to the construction of any type of structure or building, such as warehouses, commercial buildings, factories, apartments, etc.

The present invention provides an alternative to conventional construction materials and techniques. Buildings, such as houses, commercial buildings, warehouses, or other structures can be constructed by composite sandwich panels (also referred to as “sandwich panels” or “composite panels”), which have an insulative core and one or more outer layers. The buildings can be constructed by gluing several sandwich panels together. Traditional fasteners, such as screws, rivets, nails, etc., are usually not needed for such connections. Generally, composite sandwich panels offer a greater strength-to-weight ratio than traditional materials that are used by the building industry. The composite sandwich panels are generally as strong as, or stronger than, traditional materials including wood-based and steel-based structural insulation panels, while being lighter in weight. Because they weigh less than traditional building materials, the handling and transport of composite sandwich panels is generally less expensive. The composite sandwich panels also can be used to produce light-weight structures, such as floating houses, mobile homes, or travel trailers, etc.

Sandwich panels generally are more elastic or flexible than conventional materials such as wood, concrete, steel or brick and, therefore, monolithic (e.g., unitary or single unit structure) buildings made from sandwich panels generally are more durable than buildings made from conventional materials. For example, sandwich panels also may be non-flammable, waterproof, very strong and durable, and in some cases, able to resist hurricane-force winds (up to 300 Kph (kilometers per hour) or more). The sandwich panels also may be resistant to the detrimental effects of algae, fungicides, water, and osmosis. As a result, buildings constructed from sandwich panels may be better able to withstand earthquakes, floods, tornados, hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters than buildings constructed from conventional materials.

The structures described herein are built with composite materials, such as composite panels (also referred to as “sandwich panels” or “panels”). Panels, which may be formed from synthetic materials, provide a light-weight and potentially less expensive alternative to conventional raw materials, e.g., wood, concrete, metal, etc. Panels are usually connected or joined together with a high-strength bonding material, such as epoxy or glue, and conventional materials, such as nails and screws, are not usually needed. The result is a strong and durable monolithic structure, as described further below.

Sandwich panel structures may be less expensive to build than structures built from conventional materials because of reduced material costs and alternative construction techniques. The ownership and maintenance costs for sandwich panel structures also may be less over the long term because sandwich panel structures may last longer and degrade at a slower rate than buildings made from conventional materials. Structures built from sandwich panels therefore may require less maintenance and upkeep than structures built from conventional building materials, which may reduce the overall ownership costs for end users.

The insulative core of the sandwich panels also may reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and/or cool the building, which may reduce the overall costs to operate the building. The insulative core also may reduce or eliminate the need for additional insulation in the building, as may be necessary to insulate structures built from conventional building materials. Sandwich panel structures therefore may be less expensive to build and operate than buildings constructed from conventional building materials.

It should be emphasized that the term “comprises/comprising” when used in this specification is taken to specify the presence of stated features, integers, steps or components but does not preclude the presence or addition of one or more other features, integers, steps, components or groups thereof.

Features that are described and/or illustrated with respect to one embodiment may be used in the same way or in a similar way in one or more other embodiments and/or in combination with, or instead of, the features of the other embodiments.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1A is an environmental view of an exemplary monolithic structure built from composite materials;

FIG. 1B is an environmental view of exemplary support columns made from composite panels;

FIG. 2A is a cross-sectional view of a support column made from composite panels, viewed generally from the angle illustrated in FIG. 1B;

FIG. 2B is a cross-sectional view of another embodiment of a support column made from composite panels, viewed generally from the angle illustrated in FIG. 1B;

FIG. 3A is an isometric view of a panel;

FIG. 3B is a fragmentary schematic top sectional view of an edge of a panel; and

FIG. 3C is a fragmentary schematic top sectional view of an edge of a panel prepared for use in a support beam.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring to FIG. 1A, an exemplary monolithic structure 10, such as a house, is built from panels. The house 10 includes of a front wall formed from two panels 12, 14 connected by a straight joint (not shown), a side wall formed from two panels 16, 18 connected by a straight joint 22, and a roof 24. As shown in FIG. 1A, the straight joint joins two panels in a substantially common plane, e.g. a 180-degree joint. Also illustrated is a doorway 28. Although not shown in FIG. 1A, it will be appreciated that the house 10 also includes another side wall and a rear wall, which also may be formed by adjacent panels connected by straight joints.

Exemplary panels and methods for forming a monolithic structure, such as the monolithic structure 10, are disclosed in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/101,620, filed Apr. 11, 2008, the entirety of which is incorporated by reference herein.

Like with any standard building material, columns, such as column 32, and beams, such as beam 34, may be useful to support roofs or additional levels of a building when the distance between support walls exceeds acceptable standards for the amount of support desired. In such instances a support column, such as that illustrated in FIGS. 1B and 2, may be used.

Turning next to FIG. 1B, exemplary support columns are illustrated in an exemplary environmental view. As shown, multiple columns 32a-c support a beam 34, which in turn supports multiple additional beams 36a-b, which may be identical to the beam 34. The beams 36a-b may in turn support a ceiling. Alternatively, the columns 32a-c may support a ceiling directly without the beams 34 and 36a-b. One of skill in the art will recognize the various uses for support beams in the construction of various types of structures, monolithic or otherwise.

Turning next to FIG. 2 a support column formed from multiple composite panels is illustrated to span the distance between levels 102 and 104. The support column 200 may be identical to the support columns 32a-c of FIG. 1B and is formed from several, e.g. two to six (or more), panels placed adjacent to one another and cut to a desired height to span the distance between levels 102 and 104 such that level 102 is supported by the support column 200.

For example, level 102 may be a ceiling or a support beam, such as the support beam 34 of FIG. 1B. Similarly, level 104 may be a floor or other support beam. It will be understood by those of skill in the art that the number of panels may vary depending on the load to be supported, but that support columns having from two to six panels may be used for most applications.

As illustrated in FIG. 2, the support column 200 includes multiple composite panels—three in the exemplary embodiment illustrated—202a-c arranged side by side e.g., in stacked relation. In other words, the panels 202a-c are arranged such that respective pairs of opposing sides 210a-c and 212a-c of the panels 202a-c face one another. Each of the panels 202a-c includes a top side 206a-c, a bottom side 208a-c, a first side 210a-c and a second side 212a-c. In addition, one or more of the first side 210a-c and the second side 212a-c of the panels 202a-c may include an outer laminate layer. For example, the embodiment of FIG. 2 illustrates a first outer laminate layer 214a-c at each of the first sides 210a-c and a second outer laminate layer 216a-c at each of the second sides 212a-c.

Each of the panels 202a-c also includes a core 204a-c which may have a top 218a-c, a bottom 220a-c, a first side 222a-c and a second side 224a-c. As shown, the outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c may be adhered to the sides 222a-c and 224a-c of the core 204a-c. The core 204a-c may be formed from a light-weight, insulative material, for example, polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, polystyrene hard foam, Styrofoam® material, phenol foam, a natural foam, for example, foams made from cellulose materials, such as a cellulosic corn-based foam, or a combination of several different materials. Other exemplary core materials include honeycomb that can be made of polypropylene, non-flammable impregnated paper or other composite materials. The core may be any desired thickness and may be, for example, 30 mm (millimeters)-100 mm (millimeters) thick, however, it will be appreciated that the core can be thinner than 30 mm (millimeters) or thicker than 100 mm (millimeters) as may be desired. In one embodiment, the core is about 60 mm (millimeters) thick.

The outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c may be made from a composite material that includes a matrix material and a filler or reinforcement material. Exemplary matrix materials include a resin or mixture of resins, e.g., epoxy resin, polyester resin, vinyl ester resin, natural (or non oil-based) resin or phenolic resin, etc. Exemplary filler or reinforcement materials include fiberglass, glass fabric, carbon fiber, or aramid fiber, etc. Other filler or reinforcement materials include, for example, one or more natural fibers, such as, jute, coco, hemp, or elephant grass, balsa wood, or bamboo.

The outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c (also referred to as laminate) may be relatively thin with respect to the panel core 204a-c. The outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c may be several millimeters thick and may, for example, be between approximately 1 mm (millimeter) and 12 mm (millimeters) thick; however, it will be appreciated that the outer laminate layers can be thinner than 1 mm (millimeter) or thicker than 12 mm (millimeters) as may be desired. In one embodiment, the outer laminate layers are approximately 1-3 mm (millimeter) thick.

It will be appreciated that the outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c may be made thicker by layering several layers of reinforcement material on top of one another. The thickness of the reinforcement material also may be varied to obtain thicker outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c with a single layer of reinforcement material. Further, different reinforcement materials may be thicker than others and may be selected based upon the desired thickness of the outer laminate layers.

The outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c may be adhered to the core 204a-c with the matrix materials, such as the resin mixture. Once cured, the outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c of the panel 202a-c are firmly adhered to both sides of the panel core 204a-c, forming a rigid building element.

It will be appreciated that the resin mixture also may include additional agents, such as, for example, flame retardants, mold suppressants, curing agents, hardeners, etc. Coatings may be applied to the outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c, such as, for example, finish coats, paint, etc. The outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c may function to protect the core 204a-c from damage and may also provide rigidity and support to the panel 202a-c.

The panels 202a-c may be any shape. In one embodiment, and as illustrated in FIG. 2, the panels 202a-c are rectangular in shape and may be several meters, or more, in height and width. The panels 202a-c also may be other shapes and sizes. The combination of the core 204a-c and outer laminate layers 214a-c and 216a-c create panels with high ultimate strength, which is the maximum stress the panels can withstand, and high tensile strength, which is the maximum amount of tensile stress that the panels can withstand before failure. The compressive strength of the panels is such that the panels may be used as both load bearing and non-load bearing walls, and as a column or as part of a column. In one embodiment, each of the panels 202a-c have a load capacity of at least 50 tons per square meter in the vertical direction (a normal force applied to the top 206a-c of a panel 202a-c) and 2 tons per square meter in the horizontal direction (a normal force applied to one of the sides 210a-c or 212a-c of a panel 202a-c). The panels may have other strength characteristics as will be appreciated in the art.

Internal stiffeners may be integrated into the panel core 204a-c to increase the overall stiffness of the panel 202a-c. In one embodiment, the stiffeners are made from materials having the same thermal expansion properties as the materials used to construct the panel, such that the stiffeners expand and contract with the rest of the panel when the panel is heated or cooled.

The stiffeners may be made from the same material used to construct the outer laminate layers 214a-c or 216a-c of the panel 202a-c. The stiffeners may be made from composite materials and may be placed perpendicular to the top and bottom of the panels and spaced, for example, at distances of 15 cm (centimeters), 25 cm, 50 cm, or 100 cm. Alternatively, the stiffeners may be placed at different angles, such as a 45-degree angle with respect to the top and bottom of the panel, or at another angle, as may be desired.

The panels 202a-c are joined using bonding material 226a-b at each of the first side 210b-c and second side 212a-b of the plurality of panels, except for the first side 210a of the first of the plurality of panels 202a and the second side 212c of the last of the plurality of panels 202c. For example, the bonding material 226a may be placed on the outer laminate layers 216a and 214b and bonding material 226b may be placed on the outer laminate layers 216b and 214c when the support column 200 is formed from three panels as in the embodiment of FIG. 2. Bonding material 226a and 226 may be applied on the entire surface or only a part of the surface to be bonded. For example, bonding material may be applied on about 50 percent of the surface to be bonded. The bonding material may be any suitable bonding material such as epoxy, epoxy resin, glue, adhesive, adhering material or another bonding material (these terms may be used interchangeably and equivalently herein). The bonding material may include filling components, such as, fiberglass or a fiberglass and resin mixture, and may, for example, be microfiber and/or Aerosil® material.

A top laminate layer 228 is placed adjacent to and adhered to the top 218a-c of the core 204a-c. The length of the top laminate layer 228 may be approximately the same as the width of the column 200. Similarly, a bottom laminate layer 230 is placed adjacent to and adhered to the bottom 220a-c of the core 204a-c. Like the top laminate layer 228, the length of the bottom laminate layer 230 may be approximately the same as the width of the column 200. In addition, the top laminate layer 228 and/or the bottom laminate layer 230 may be formed from the same material as the first outer laminate layer 214a-c and/or second outer laminate layer 216a-c.

As will be understood by those of skill in the art, the top laminate layer 228 and the bottom laminate layer 230 may be adhered to the core 204a-c using various techniques, which may involve the use of bonding material or the use of matrix material, such as a resin.

Turning next to FIG. 2B, another embodiment of a column is illustrated. The support column 201 is similar to the support column 200 of FIG. 2A in most aspects, except that the top laminate layer 228 and bottom laminate layer 230 are adhered to the core 204a-c in a different manner.

As shown in FIG. 2B, the first outer layer 214a and second outer layer 216a are laminated to the core 204a. In addition, the first outer layer 214a may be positioned to extend beyond the length of the side of the core 204a to which the first outer layer 214a is adhered and terminate in substantially the same horizontal plane as the top 218a of the core 204a, thereby forming a cavity 232a. Similarly, the second outer layer 216a may be positioned to extend beyond the length of the side of the core 204a to which the second outer layer 216a is adhered and terminate in substantially the same horizontal plane as the top 218a of the core 204a, thereby forming a cavity 234a.

Turning next to the panels 202a-c, each of the panels 202a-c includes a core 204a-c, a top 206a-c, a bottom 208a-c, a first side 210a-c and a second side 212a-c. For simplicity, the description of the panels focuses on panel 202a but it is understood that panels 202b and 202c may include any or all of the elements of panel 202a discussed herein. As shown in the panel 202a, the top of the core 204a is angled from the center portion to the first side 210a. The top of the core 204a may also be angled from the center portion to the second side 212a. In other words, the length L1 of the center portion of the core 204a is greater than, for example, the length L2 of the second side 212a. In addition, the bottom 208a of the core 204a may be angled from the center portion to one or more of the first side 210a or the second side 212a.

The first outer layer 214a may also be positioned to extend in an opposite direction beyond the length of the side of the core 204a to which the first outer layer 214a is adhered and terminate in substantially the same horizontal plane as the bottom 220a of the core 204a, thereby forming a cavity 236a; and the second outer layer 216a may be positioned to extend in an opposite direction beyond the length of the side of the core 204a to which the second outer layer 216a is adhered and terminate in substantially the same horizontal plane as the bottom 220a of the core 204a, thereby forming a cavity 238a.

As shown, each of the cavities 232a, 234a, 236a and 238a may be generally triangular in shape. In the illustrated exemplary embodiment, at least one of the cavities 232a, 234a, 236a and 238a is at least partially filled with bonding material, for example, prior to joining the top laminate layer 228 or bottom laminate layer 230 to the panel 202a.

In addition, although cross-sectional views of columns 200 and 201 are illustrated in FIGS. 2A-B, it will be understood by those of skill in the art that all four sides of the column 200 have an outer laminate layer such that the cores 204a-c of the panels are not exposed. Like the top laminate layer 228 and the bottom laminate layer 230, the side outer layers not illustrated in FIGS. 2A-B may be adhered to the core 204a-c using various techniques, which may involve the use of bonding material or the use of matrix material, such as a resin.

Turning next to FIGS. 3A-C, an exemplary panel 302, such as panels 202a-c of FIGS. 2A-B, is illustrated. The panel 302 includes two outer layers 314 and 316 separated by a core 304, e.g., corresponding to the outer layers 214a and 216a and the core 203a, which are described above. The core 304 may be formed from a light-weight, insulative material, for example, polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, polystyrene hard foam, Styrofoam® material, phenol foam, a natural foam, for example, foams made from cellulose materials, such as a cellulosic corn-based foam, or a combination of several different materials. Other exemplary core materials include honeycomb that can be made of polypropylene, non-flammable impregnated paper or other composite materials. The core may be any desired thickness and may be, for example, 30 mm (millimeters)-100 mm (millimeters) thick, however, it will be appreciated that the core can be thinner than 30 mm (millimeters) or thicker than 100 mm (millimeters) as may be desired. In one embodiment, the core is about 60 mm (millimeters) thick.

The outer layers 314 and 316 of a panel, e.g., panel 302 of FIGS. 3A-C, are made from a composite material that includes a matrix material and a filler or reinforcement material. Exemplary matrix materials include a resin or mixture of resins, e.g., epoxy resin, polyester resin, vinyl ester resin, natural (or non oil-based) resin or phenolic resin, etc. Exemplary filler or reinforcement materials include fiberglass, glass fabric, carbon fiber, or aramid fiber, etc. Other filler or reinforcement materials include, for example, one or more natural fibers, such as, jute, coco, hemp, or elephant grass, balsa wood, or bamboo.

The outer layers 314 and 316 (also referred to as laminate) may be relatively thin with respect to the panel core 304. The outer layers 314 and 316 may be several millimeters thick and may, for example, be between approximately 1 mm (millimeter)-12 mm (millimeters) thick; however, it will be appreciated that the outer layers can be thinner than 1 mm (millimeter) or thicker than 12 mm (millimeters) as may be desired. In one embodiment, the outer layers are approximately 1-3 mm (millimeter) thick.

It will be appreciated that the outer layers 314 and 316 may be made thicker by layering several layers of reinforcement material on top of one another. The thickness of the reinforcement material also may be varied to obtain thicker outer layers 314 and 316 with a single layer of reinforcement material. Further, different reinforcement materials may be thicker than others and may be selected based upon the desired thickness of the outer layers.

The outer layers 314 and 316 may be adhered to the core 304 with the matrix materials, such as the resin mixture. Once cured, the outer layers 314 and 316 of the panel 302 are firmly adhered to both sides of the panel core 304, forming a rigid building element. It will be appreciated that the resin mixture also may include additional agents, such as, for example, flame retardants, mold suppressants, curing agents, hardeners, etc. Coatings may be applied to the outer layers 314 and 316, such as, for example, finish coats, paint, ultraviolet (UV) protectants, water protectants, etc. The outer layers 314 and 316 may function to protect the core 304 from damage and may also provide rigidity and support to the panel 302.

The panels 302 may be any shape. In one embodiment, the panels 302 are rectangular in shape and may be several meters, or more, in height and width. The panels 302 also may be other shapes and sizes. The combination of the core 304 and outer layers 314 and 316 create panels with high ultimate strength, which is the maximum stress the panels can withstand, and high tensile strength, which is the maximum amount of tensile stress that the panels can withstand before failure. The compressive strength of the panels is such that the panels may be used as both load bearing and non-load bearing walls. In one embodiment, the panels have a load capacity of at least 50 tons per square meter in the vertical direction (indicated by arrows V in FIG. 3A) and 2 tons per square meter in the horizontal direction (indicated by arrows H in FIG. 3A). The panels may have other strength characteristics as will be appreciated in the art.

Internal stiffeners may be integrated into the panel core 304 to increase the overall stiffness of the panel 302. In one embodiment, the stiffeners are made from materials having the same thermal expansion properties as the materials used to construct the panel, such that the stiffeners expand and contract with the rest of the panel when the panel is heated or cooled.

The stiffeners may be made from the same material used to construct the outer layers of the panel. The stiffeners may be made from composite materials and may be placed perpendicular to the top and bottom of the panels and spaced, for example, at distances of 15 cm (centimeters), 25 cm, 50 cm, or 100 cm. Alternatively, the stiffeners may be placed at different angles, such as a 45-degree angle with respect to the top and bottom of the panel, or at another angle, as may be desired.

FIG. 3B depicts a top view of a panel 302, e.g., like the respective panels 202a-c, which are described above. As shown in FIG. 3B, the edge 340 of the panel is flush or even with the edges 342 and 344 of the outer layers 314 and 316, respectively. It will be appreciated that while shown in the illustrated embodiment as a generally straight edge, the edge may be shaped, for example into an “S” shape, or another shape.

Referring now to FIG. 3C, portions of the core 304 are removed from the panel 302 to create combined cavities 326 and 328, e.g., like respective pairs of cavities 226a, 234a and 230a, 234a, which are described above. Bonding material may be placed or injected into the combined cavities 326 and 328 to facilitate adherence to the top support 218 or bottom support 220 illustrated in FIG. 1. The cavities 326 and 328 extend along an inner edge of the outer layers 314 and 316, designated generally as “A,” and also perpendicularly from the outer layer and towards the center of the core 304, designated generally as “B.” The dimensions A, B of the cavities 326 and 328 are several millimeters in length, and may, for example be approximately 15-20 mm (millimeters) long.

The dimensions A, B also may be selected based upon the thicknesses of the outer layers 314 and 316 according to a desired ratio. The desired ratio of the dimensions A, B to the thickness of the outer layers 314 and 316 may be approximately seven to one (7:1), or more, e.g., 8:1 or an even larger ratio. For instance if the outer layers 314 and 316 are about 2 mm (millimeters) thick, the dimensions A, B would be at least about 14 mm (millimeters), and may be thicker, if desired, or adjusted based upon a desired safety factor.

As shown, the cavities 326 and 328 are symmetrical with one another and each form the general shape of an isosceles right triangle, having a 45-degree hypotenuse and legs A, B. It will be appreciated that the shapes of the cavities 326 and 328 are exemplary of only one embodiment and numerous other configurations may be possible. For example, the cavities need not be symmetrical. Also, more core material may be removed for larger (e.g., thicker) outer layers 314 and 316 or less core material may be removed for smaller (e.g., thinner) outer layers 314 and 316. Alternatively, the cavities 326 and 328 need not be triangular in shape and may, for example, be similar to another shape, such as a curved shape, a circular (or partial circular) shape, a rectangular shape or a square shape, etc. It will be appreciated that the core 304 and outer layers 314 and 316 may be formed in the configuration of FIG. 3C prior to or after adhering the outer layers 314, 316 to the core 104, or the panel may be molded to the desired shape.

Although the invention has been shown and described with respect to a certain preferred embodiment or embodiments, it is obvious that equivalent alterations and modifications will occur to others skilled in the art upon the reading and understanding of this specification and the annexed drawings.

While the present invention has been described in association with exemplary embodiments, the described embodiments are to be considered in all respects as illustrative and not restrictive. Such other features, aspects, variations, modifications, and substitution of equivalents may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of this invention which is intended to be limited only by the scope of the following claims. Also, it will be appreciated that features and parts illustrated in one embodiment may be used, or may be applicable, in the same or in a similar way in other embodiments.