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Canadian JV unveils structural foam building blocks

Anyone who was a kid within the past 30 years – most of us, in other words – inevitably tried hi...


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January 18, 2010 by Canadian Plastics

Anyone who was a kid within the past 30 years – most of us, in other words – inevitably tried his or her hand at building a house with Lego blocks.

Cut to the present, and a new technology has just been unveiled that uses a similar principal to create a system of structural foam building blocks designed to offer the building industry a simpler way of doing on-site construction.

Called the Ultimate Building Block, the system has been developed by a joint venture of Canadian manufacturers including Toronto’s Royal Mould Technologies Ltd., a moldmaker owned and operated by Angel Neira.

The system consists of an inner and outer wall, fastened together with centre connectors, that can be delivered to a construction site as a sub-assembled unit. Here’s where the Lego connection comes in: the building crew can then assemble the walls almost as they would a set of giant Lego blocks, with only minimum training and supervision. For a building contractor, the advantages are obvious: reduced skill labour requirements, faster build time and a more competitive overall cost.

ADAPTABLE AND TOUGH

According to Mike Draga, general manager of Royal Mould – which provided the tooling solutions for the project – the walls are produced by low pressure structural foam molding, with high pressure injection molding used to supply the connectors. “There are different size blocks and connectors available, to provide the industry with whatever size and thickness of walls they require,” he said.

Once in place on a construction site, Draga continued, this plastic “skeleton” is filled with concrete to form a solid outer structure. “The outer walls will have the capabilities of having a number of different finishes – such as brick, marble or stucco – tailored to suit the tastes or requirements of each customer,” he explained. “The inner walls are designed in such a way that all the electrical, plumbing and HVAC channels/openings are molded-in, which eliminates the need to cut or drill through walls or sections. Once installed, the inner walls are ready to accept the drywall, paneling or whatever finish is desired.”

In true Canadian fashion, the blocks have been designed to withstand the worst elements that Mother Nature can throw at them – including protecting the structure of the house from any water damage caused by flooding or other natural disasters – and also to satisfy the fussiest building code inspector. “In the construction world, the higher the R-value, the better your walls,” Draga explained. “Our blocks have a minimum R-value of R-40, which compares favourably with the average new home rating of R-24. This translates into improved energy efficiency.”

HARD WORK PAYING OFF

Available right now, the system was over three years in the making – and that’s three years of blood, sweat and research and development costs for all of the companies involved. “The effort was worth it, though, as this turn-key approach – involving engineering, manufacturing, production and actual building construction – gives Royal Mould and our partners total control of the product, which is critical towards the goal of supplying a cost-competitive product globally,” Draga said.

Fortuitously, the project has come to fruition at just the right moment for Royal Mould itself, giving the company a creative shot in the arm and also a chance to get in on the ground floor as the North American housing market shows signs of recovery. “This venture allows our company to diversify and pursue opportunities in low pressure structural foam tooling solutions, into markets that are less competitive and that appear to offer stronger and more consistent returns in both the short and the long term,” Draga said. “Perseverance and continued research and development for new solutions in untapped markets is what will make or break any manufacturing business today.”