What Can Insulated Metal Panels Do for a Drug Manufacturing Facility?

A metal building products industry expert discusses how insulated metal panels for exterior wall systems can address climate sensitivity issues in pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.

By Toy Henson, Director of Education and Development, The Metal Initiative

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Anyone involved in the design or construction of a climate-sensitive pharmaceutical manufacturing facility should consider the inherent benefits of exterior wall systems featuring insulated metal panels.

With their exceptional thermal performance, these panels offer the highest insulating value per inch of any wall-insulating product on the market, resulting in significantly lower energy and operating costs.

These wall systems also provide uniform insulating performance because the shape and thickness of the insulating material is maintained between two metal skins. In addition, tongue and groove installation ensures that the entire wall area is covered with insulation.

Sphinx Pharmaceuticals' R&D laboratory, Raleigh, N.C.
When project architects at O'Brian Atkins were designing Sphinx Pharmaceuticals' new R&D laboratory in Raleigh, N.C., they chose insulated metal panels to be create a facility that is both highly functional and reflective of the cutting-edge work performed there. Courtesy of The Metal Initiative.

For the past 35 years, metal panels have been insulated in the factory through a process in which liquid insulating foam, usually polyurethane, is injected between two metal sheets made of aluminum or steel. The foamed-in-place core fuses to the metal skin, expands to fill the interior cavity, and solidifies to create a solid, monolithic panel. The process leaves no voids or gaps to compromise the thermal value, which can range from R-14 to R-30 depending on the insulating core used and its thickness.

The impermeable metal skins ensure that high insulating values are maintained for the life of the building by encapsulating the insulating material and protecting it from exposure to air and moisture.

Insulated metal panels are available in a variety of widths, lengths, gauges and finishes, and can be installed horizontally or vertically to achieve the desired look. Unlike brick, pre-cast, tilt-up concrete or other cementitious materials used for exterior walls, insulated metal panels do not absorb water when it rains. This prevents the build up of mold or mildew in the wall cavity.

While tilt-up, pre-cast or block systems typically require cranes and other equipment to be set in place; the lightweight, insulated metal panels can often be installed with forklifts or a simple pulley system, lowering construction costs. Moreover, the insulated panels can be installed quickly and easily throughout the year, even during inclement weather. This accelerates the construction timetable, which leads to lower construction and interim finance costs.

Building owners also benefit from high-performance coatings applied to the metal skins for protection against the elements. The coatings are designed to last for decades and eliminate the need to re-paint the metal surface. Consequently, insulated metal panels provide exceptional durability and longevity and require very low maintenance.

Panel Designs Vary by Application

Since thermal performance is an important consideration in constructing a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, the metal wall industry offers more panel options for this market segment than for standard commercial applications. For example, insulated metal panels used for pharmaceutical facilities come in thicknesses of two, four, six and eight inches, while a two-inch-thick insulated panel generally meets most commercial building requirements.

Typically, insulated metal panels used in cold storage applications are profiled, enabling the panels to span greater lengths without the need for additional support. And they come in a wide range of colors, textures and finishes.

Insulated metal panels offer a number of “green” or environmental benefits as well. For example, the skin is made of recycled aluminum or steel. When insulated metal panels are removed from a wall, the metal is recycled and used on another project, thereby avoiding the necessity of hauling the old panels to a landfill.

For more information on insulated metal panels, visit www.themetalinitiative.com.

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