Gypsum fiber panels have been used as interior walls, as a high-strength flooring underlayment, and as an exterior sheathing worldwide, especially in
Europe, since the early 1970s.The most popular commercial construction application for these panels is in wall systems, where they typically are specified as an abuse-resistant alternative to drywall and plaster systems.After a successful European introduction of these panels, several U.S. manufacturers developed and marketed gypsum fiber products as a replacement for traditional gypsum board. However, because gypsum fiber products are more expensive and not as easy to install as drywall, these companies had only minimal success in selling their products on a broad scale.Still, the industry sensed that growth opportunities existed for these products in high-performance applications. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, companies conducted extensive research on the technology, potential market size, and desirable product characteristics.These efforts resulted in the development of innovative panels made from a unique manufacturing process that combines cellulose fibers and gypsum, the primary ingredient in traditional drywall products. Many of these products now also incorporate water-resistant technology, which provides increased resistance to indentation and penetration without the need for a paper face that can tear or scratch.Gypsum fiber panels are now routinely specified in hospitals, schools, prisons, and other facilities that are subjected to occasional moist conditions and are likely to experience abrasions, indentations, and other forms of abuse. This damage can result from supply carts, gurneys, machinery, or equipment being moved routinely throughout the premises.Since the advent of the first gypsum wood fiber products, the manufacturing technology and science have improved continually. Today, the manufacturing proc-ess actually grows gypsum crystals in and around the pores of wood fiber, more fully integrating the two materials. This contributes to many of the products’ superior performance features, including greater strength-to-weight ratio; better fire and weather resistance; improved fastener holding; consistent dimensional stability; uniform surface smoothness; and full recyclability.The technology also is highly versatile. Adjustments to formulations and processing conditions can generate panels in a variety of densities, thicknesses, and surface textures. This flexibility makes it possible to produce different panels that meet a variety of current or anticipated end-use conditions.Because gypsum fiber panels have an intrinsic strength, there’s no need to include additional layers to bolster their strength. Drywall panels, for example, require paper facings to provide strength. By comparison, a ½-inch-thick gypsum wood fiber panel is approximately 20-percent stronger than a ½-inch paper-faced gypsum panel.Gypsum wood fiber panels also offer superior fire resistance and are listed in the Underwriters Laboratories directory under “Type FRX-G” panels. They can be used in place of Type X gypsum panels in dozens of fire-rated wall assemblies.Gypsum wood fiber panels provide a smooth, flat, and paintable surface for finished walls and require less cutting, fewer joints, and no transitions between different types of substrates. They are, by their composition and design, extremely environmentally friendly. Many are made from 95-percent recycled materials. Several of these products have been awarded the “Green Cross” certificate for their high recycled content from Scientific Certification Systems, a leading independent testing organization.Diane Earll is product marketing manager, FIBEROCK Panels, United States Gypsum Co., (www.usg.com), Chicago, a leading manufacturer of gypsum wallboard, joint compound, and related gypsum products; cement board; and gypsum fiber panels.