I frequently get asked where we bought our composite panels, where can I buy composite panels, how much did your composite panels cost you?
How much we paid for our composite panels is kind of irrelevant, they likely cost us a lot more because we were located in Northern Canada when we built the truck, so availability and shipping costs inflated the price quite a bit. Furthermore, this was many years ago and prices and availability have changed a lot. Hopefully for the better.
As we were following in the footsteps of Turtle Expedition I originally set out to find the same Nidia-Core panels they used. But I found this was only available in 4×8 sheets and would need to be joined to make the larger panels needed for our build, Further, they have no finish and would need to be body worked for final paint.
I then learned of RhioKore foam impregnated honeycomb composite panels, these appeared to be very high quality and it’s was what WestySS used on his build. Unfortunately, the company was in the middle of going out of business when I set out on this project. Their phones were forwarded to an answering service which took dozens of messages for me but never returned a call. As I understand it they are no longer in business, although there seem to be other outfits springing up taking advantage of the name.
Since RihnoKore was not an option, I set out looking for other suppliers who would deal with the relatively small volumes I needed. Several suppliers just shut me down because I didn’t need a whole container load of their panels.
I ordered samples from several suppliers, some were Glass Fiber Mat impregnated Polyproplene, I quickly discounted these because the polypropylene is extremely difficult to bond to with reasonable processes, glues like SikaFlex 252 just don’t stick. (See Below) Others were EPS Foam Board skinned with FRP, But I didn’t like the idea of fiberglass skin just glued to a foam board, in my tests the skin peeled away from the foam too easily, especially if it is riveted along its edge.
I also received samples that were foam board skinned with aluminum sheet, many Overland truck manufacturers use this. However they suffered from the same delamination problems, and worse yet a good solid punch will leave 4 dented knuckle imprints in the panel. Another thing that turned me off of foam was when I was testing paint adhesion, the solvents from the paint melted the foam on the edge of the board… I wasn’t even intentionally testing this, it just wafted around the side and the next morning I had an inch of foam missing around the board perimeter. This of course can be mitigated by sealing all the panel edges somehow, but I just couldn’t sleep knowing that vapors from a bottle of thinner tipping over would end our whole build.
In the end, I went with a Canadian Manufacturer who supplied Crane Composites FRP Skinned Honeycomb Panels. Over the course of the transaction, they changed the price, then changed the currency from Canadian dollar to US dollars citing that was normal, “they always charge in USD…” But that effectively increased my price by 30% – Then they shipped it to me without quoting the shipping costs, they then billed me $3000 to hire a full semi-trailer to haul a couple of hundred pounds of panels for a 6-hour drive. If I’d have been told this, I would have hitched up a trailer and ripped out there and picked them up myself.
That all being said, The panels I got are “fine”, they are exactly what I ordered, But the whole experience was lacking… They too were slow to return calls, They couldn’t do the foam impregnated honeycomb, the price wasn’t that attractive in the end, and I got jerked around with the shipping. And lastly, when I’ve referred other people to them, they were told they no longer deal with small consumer orders. Some people have since asked that I share the name of this vendor so they can be avoided, but I believe that “any publicity is good publicity” and I don’t think they want or deserve it.
I usually try and avoid such negativity in our videos and writings, this is why I’ve mostly avoided the question because I don’t want to say it. But in the interest of positive constructive advice here is what I would recommend If I was to do it again.
I would try and find foam impregnated honeycomb fiberglass panels, I don’t know of any…
Find a composite panel supplier located in your country, this will make shipping a lot easier.
If you do choose to go with foam-cored panels, you will need extrusions that perfectly cap the edge of the panels, And are bonded to both skins of the panels, avoiding rivets or other Fasteners to the skins. Unfortunately, it seems such extrusions are only available in 90 degrees, so you’re kind of limited to making a cube.
This all being said, my opinions are likely quite dated, this is a fast-moving industry and I’m sure there are suppliers and Technologies popping up everywhere.