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Certified Labelling systems could offer promise re flammable ACM cladding issue

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The suspended CodeMark identification system was once deployed by Fairview Architectural for Vitrabond

 

With so much debate and finger-pointing happening as the Bill to ban all imports of PE-cored flammable ACM sheets becomes nearer to Law, our attention is drawn to a now withdrawn simple fix instituted by a leading supplier of ACM/ACP to the building industry, Fairview Architectural. However, there is a glitch; the issuing body, CertMark's accreditation is under suspension for non-compliance, and the labels were withdrawn.

Just as food and pharmaceutical labels need to contain specific federally-legislated information about content, allergies, dosages etcetera, Fairview originally intoduced labels : PE (Combusible) FR (Fire Retardant and G2 (Non-combustible). These labels have now to be withdrawn as problems with the issuing accreditation body CertMark International continue. In addition, industry reports indicate that Fairview has ceased marketing both Vitrabond PE and FR, focusing only on Vitrabond G2. Industry supplier HVG has had product specification markings for its Alucobond and single-sided Dibond and Dilite panels for several years, with clear markings and Alucobond CodeMark certification on the backs of sheets.

The CodeMark Certification by CertMark International Scheme is/was a voluntary third-party building product certification scheme that authorises the use of new and innovative products in specified circumstances in order to facilitate compliance with Volumes One and Two of the NCC, also known as the Building Code of Australia or BCA. In order to be deemed Fire Retardant of Non-Combustible, a building product must have passed AS1530.1-1994; the Australian Standard for flammability of external building product.

The Building Ministers Forum resolved in Adelaide late last year that a standard be developed for marking of ACPs. This process has been taking place in recent months with input from various stakeholders including the HIA, Ai Group, and HVG. A draft standard has now been developed and will be available for public comment shortly. Industry sources suggest that this standard will be very close to what 3A Composites have been marking on their panels for some time. https://productnews.com.au/apr14/alucobond-now-codemark-certified

How this standard will be applied to double-sided signage ACPs is yet to be determined.

This new standard appears to be a sensible move, making similar markings compulsory rather than voluntary. If any importer attempts to counterfeit the markings and claim incorrect ratings on PE-cored ACM, surveillance and detection systems exist to identify this.

Another suggestion, to differentiate signage-use ACM sheets is perhaps to include a ‘for signage use only’ fourth classification. The double-sided nature of many signs produced on ACPs is an issue that would need to be addressed - perhaps by inkjet edge-coding? Large signage that ends up affixed to tall buildings, would still need to be produced on non-PE-cored ACM as these often include lighting and electrical wiring and form part of the external building’s fire rating.

Adding to the need for clear and enforcable labelling of ACM panels, Standards Australia (links to discussion document) is also looking at implementing a system, with industry sources saying that it is very close to being finalised.

All that would need to be done is to change the CodeMark, or Standards Australia method, to one of compulsory and accredited labelling instead of voluntary. If any importer attempts to counterfeit the labels and claim FR rating on PE-cored ACM (which according to a Herald-Sun investigation has actually happened, along with product substitution); security features can be built into the labels such as holograms, ‘watermarks’ invisible security inks, QR coding, glyphs and RFID. A simple scanning system would identify fakes.

A similar but more numerous grading system exists for timber with the ‘S’ and ‘F’ grading system for strength and stress of various timbers.

The issue of falsification and substitution is already catered for under various state legislation, with penalties and disciplinary outcomes.

The adoption of such a CodeMark/CertMark or Australian Standards certification scheme, properly enforced and accredited by JSA-ANZ, could negate the need for a blanket ban on all ACM PE-cored panels and restore confidence for both the signage and construction sectors. It's all a complex and developing scenario, but one that is now being managed by people in both the private and government sectors with promising outcomes.

As one of our WA readers put it in response to one of our surveys: "In light of the ongoing discussion around ACM cladding, why are we not pushing back and stating the obvious, we are not cladding a building, we're installing signs on the cladding. If a supplier substitutes cladding,  that's not the sign industry's fault surely, should we as an industry blindly get led to the "slaughter house??"  That's a very good point, sir, and one that ASGA and others are trying to address with rationality. Because the Sign industry uses ACM of all kinds, we have been tarred with the same brush and risk losing a very valuable and economical (and non-lethal) signage medium because of the errors of the constructioin industry. Maybe if all the suppliers adopt the Australian Standards or CodeMark certification system and introduce one for 'Signage use only' - it will go a long way to resolving the problem and avoid a blanket ban.

A useful discussion paper tabled to Parliament can be found here.