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From Polystyrene to PIR Panels – How Far Have We Come?

Stancold offering food-safe PIR panel systems

Stancold’s more than 70 years of experience in installing composite panel systems mean that we have seen the industry evolve and take shape into what it is today. This has included technical advancements in new panel manufacturing processes, creating products to provide the most suitable solutions to our clients.

Over the last 40 years, there has been a shift in the type of panel systems used within internal food and drink projects, for the likes of cold storage and hygienic fit-outs, where polystyrene has been completely overhauled by PIR insulating cores, as well as Mineral Fibre, or Rockwool, in more stringent cases.

What are Polystyrene Panels?

A popular system used in the food industry during the 1990s, polystyrene panels have a closed-cell structure, made up of 98% air. There are two main types, their differences lying within the manufacturing processes; expanded polystyrene (EPS), made by heating beads within a mould allowing them to expand, and extruded polystyrene (XPS), where products are melted together and shaped through a die. Both types make for a lightweight and inexpensive panel, but can not necessarily be guaranteed for moisture resistance or combustibility.

What are PIR Panels?

A shorthand term for ‘polyisocyanurate’, PIR is a synthetic insulator made from polyol and isocyanate, where when combined, create a heavily linked ring-like structure. It is an enhanced type of PUR (polyurethane), where the increased volume of isocyanate enables it to be less combustible, therefore being able to withstand a greater exposure to heat.

When the insulation itself is sandwiched between two metal sheets, forming a complete PIR panel system, it benefits from structural rigidity, good insulating properties and is moisture-resistant, meaning it is ideal for the construction of temperature-controlled facilities such as cold stores and freezers.

Why the Shift from Polystyrene to PIR?

While polystyrene was once a suitable building material for internal food projects, it was its flammable properties that began causing concern, especially after a number of devastating fires in the large UK food manufacturing plants. Fitted with polystyrene systems that shot up in flames, it soon became an unacceptable construction material, where insurers were unable to offer policies to existing businesses using these panels, or certainly without a premium.

Since then, the alternative has been to use a PIR panel system, complete with a food-safe finish to suit the hygienic requirements of the food & drink industry. While it is still classed as ‘combustible’, it is fire-retardant to a certain extent and can certainly withstand any spread of flame better than polystyrene, or even PUR, making it an insurer-friendly product. It’s important to note that if non-combustibility is a key consideration, a Mineral Fibre core is most suitable.

Making the Right Decision

As we’ve discovered in this post, PIR panel systems are now highly recommended for the food & drink industry, due to their greater performance and safety characteristics, compared to traditional polystyrene. High-quality manufacturers include Kingspan, Hemsec and Isoclad, where design & build specialists, such as Stancold, work closely to provide bespoke solutions for the food & drink industry.

Therefore, if an insurance renewal is imminent or perhaps it’s time for your facilities to be upgraded, Stancold can reliably take care of this project. Our established and close relationship of over 20 years with panel manufacturers allows us to offer only the highest quality of maintenance-free and cost-effective systems, with finishes to suit the needs of your individual business.

To discuss further with a member of the team, please get in touch with us on 0117 316 7000 or send us an enquiry.


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