Reviewing the choices available to you in the form panel market can help you minimize labor costs, speed up construction, and ultimately save you money. Form panels are fairly simple, consisting of a frame, a surface, and some hardware to connect the panels together. Each of these components is available in different options and can be recombined into an array of products for every forming application.
The form panel frame can be made of steel, aluminum, wood, or plastic, or no frame at all. Your choice depends on your use.
The benefit of a steel frame lies in its durability, making it suitable for heavy-duty jobs. Steel-framed forms can be used repeatedly, in either handset or gangform situations. But because they tend to be heavy, they are better suited for large commercial jobs.
Aluminum-framed forms are lighter than steel-framed forms, and can weigh less than 90 pounds—light enough for one person to maneuver. Aluminum-framed panels also tend to use aluminum panel surfaces. Usually not durable enough to withstand the rigors of big commercial operations, they are well-suited for residential foundations. If you take care of them, aluminum form panels can be used for a number of projects.
Canada-based Aluma Systems, however, manufactures an aluminum-framed forming system that uses plywood panels, which is durable enough to handle large commercial operations and is quick to assemble and easy to move around.
Wood-framed form panels, using either overlaid plywood panels or BB Plyform, usually are built onsite and tend to be the least durable option. Repeated use and exposure to the elements and other corrosive agents quickly deteriorates the quality and shape of the formwork. Eventually, they need to be replaced.
Wooden forms, however, offer flexibility not found elsewhere. You can make exactly the size you need, which can be very important for any complex, or oddly shaped formwork application. In addition, you can include penetrations and other knockouts that would require destroying other form panels.
Plastic frames are the newest type of form panel systems and are being developed by several companies around the world, including Fuvi in Vietnam and DC International in Canada. The frame and surface panel are molded as one piece of high-density polyethylene, offering easy assembly of these lightweight components and easy cleanup because concrete won't stick to the surface. The reported number of reuses is not yet on par with existing metal systems.
The “no-frame” form panel types are best suited for foundations and footings. They are not meant to be stacked.
The form panel surface is what actually touches the concrete. Heavy-duty formwork generally comes with steel facings. Aluminum forming systems frequently employ the light metal for both the frame and the face. Composite panel faces use a synthetic surface. In many form panel systems, however, some kind of plywood is used.
Plywood for concrete forming comes in several basic varieties. B-B and B-C plywood—where the letters correspond to the grade of the wood used for the face and the back—are the simplest, least adorned types for concrete forming situations. Typically, the plywood will not be reused and the surface appearance is not important.