Need Fiberglass Foam Core Panel Recommendation

bapple

Member
I am designing a flatbed camper and plan to build the shell with structural panels and fiberglass joints. No frame and no skeleton. Skeptics will recommend a traditional fiberglass mold. My budget won’t allow this and my research of boat building and O&G industry (think small nuke-proof meter shelters) suggests this type of structural shell is quite possible.

I cannot find a supplier that makes a suitable panel in the size that I want. I’ve scoured the internet and talked with several manufacturers. I’ve been told by several that they will be releasing new panel products soon.

Desired criteria:
- Fiberglass skin on both sides
- core either foam or honeycomb+foam fill
- 4’ x 8’ panel (I’d take 8’ x 16’ if available)
- Suitable for structural loads

Does anyone have experience building with structural fiberglass foam core panels? Wonder if anyone has advice and recommendations for a panel.

FWIW, Total Composites were great with their assistance and knowledge. Unfortunately, they informed me that their system is not compatible with fiberglass seams/joints.
 

aardvarcus

Adventurer
I built my own small camper shell by making a extruded polystyrene foam core from scratch and fiberglassing over it. Not hard but it takes some practice. Look up surfboard building techniques and just imagine the scaled up version. I know I have seen some other example on here of the same sort of build.

I imagine though you are looking on feedback on using premade panels, only requiring the board seams to be fiberglassed together. No direct experience with that method.
 

bapple

Member
you are correct - i'm looking for premade panels. I don't have the fiberglass skills to make my own panels. Wish I did.
 

bapple

Member
gwittman - thanks for the recommendation. I have samples of Coosa, CarbonCore, Fibertech on the way for mock ups and destructive testing.
 

stomperxj

Explorer
I am going to be laminating my own composite panels for my trailer build using 1" Dow foam and Filon. Hopefully going to get started on the walls by the end of January. Link in my signature
 

bapple

Member
Any info. on your destructive testing? I am interested in doing the same thing. Thanks!

I have received three samples of panel materials. All were fairly representative of the model that would be used for the walls. I am currently building mock angles and panels with the samples, but they are all a little too small. I plan to purchase larger boards (4'x8') of the exact model that I would use for more representative testing.

I continue to research companies that could build the entire shell and paint to match my truck. Cost will be $10-20K. PM me if you are interested - perhaps we could get a better deal buying two shells if they are the same. My truck is a 2014 F350 longbed.
 

bapple

Member
My full update would be rather lengthy and disappointing. I’ll just skip to the disappointment: I was not able to find any suitable manufactured composite panels.
A few details for the curious: I hired a smart person to perform finite element analysis on a full composite shell design. This guy designs carb
on fiber parts for military aircraft and was very qualified. We were able to create a design that achieved all performance criteria. We did this with a few manufactured composite manufacturers in mind. However, when I requested specifications of the panels that we were going to use, the manufactures did not have any specifications for their panels.

To clarify with a real example: manufacturer X has a line of composite panels. Marketing material of the panels on its website provides basic details of the panels (thickness, materials, etc.). We made assumptions about the mechanical specifications of the panels (in some cases setting up a test bed to test samples and confirm assumptions). After we decided we could use the panels for the shell, I requested technical information about the panels from Manufacturer X. Manufacturer X then said they don’t have detailed specifications of the panels (and in some cases requested our test results).

This same story played out with three manufacturers.

Material cost for one shell was $4,000-5,000. I was not willing to experiment with $4,000 (plus labor).

A few folks have asked why I didn’t go to a more advanced panel manufacturer. COST. I could have found a supplier that provides all of the necessary specifications. However, I found that the type of company with this type of expertise makes only custom panels. Custom panels would drive the material cost up to $20,000 (and no doubt they would be awesome). So I was forced to seek panels that were standard (or standard with minor customization).

I annoyed the hell out of several panel manufacturers. Out of respect for the people that answered my repeated calls (even though they rarely actually returned my calls), I’d prefer to not list the names of the companies.

The good news is that it is theoretically possible to build a frameless camper shell using only fiberglass composite panels.

So now my design will be based on an internal aluminum shell. More details to follow. Another smart person is doing FEA on my frame now.

Edited to add picture from the FEA report.
 

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bapple

Member
It’s never too late to join a party.

I need a cab over design. This was the greatest design challenge. The camper must sleep four comfortably so the cabover is a must. I don’t think I’ve seen your system with this feature but please let us know if it is possible.
 

tanuki.himself

Active member
I need a cab over design. This was the greatest design challenge. The camper must sleep four comfortably so the cabover is a must. I don’t think I’ve seen your system with this feature but please let us know if it is possible.

Very interesting. it sounds like we have very similar requirements - i too want a cab-over bed that can mount on a smaller truck such as a european-spec ford ranger super cab or nissan navara king cab, and I would prefer to go frameless if possible.

I'm definitely not smart enough to do finite element analysis - I was lectured on the maths behind it at college but that was in the 1980s and it was a bit beyond me then. And I've misplaced a lot of braincells since then....

I'm taking another tack in that I know there are a number of manufacturers out there who do make cab over beds so I'm kind of reverse engineering their structures on the basis of they can make it work commercially then it must possible. One that I particularly like is the north-south version of this

https://www.bimobil.com/en/modell/bimobil-husky-240/

But I want mine to be a slide in to a standard pick up bed so I have a normal vehicle to use when the camper is in storage.

I'll be building in Europe and will be visiting a couple of camper shows there next spring to talk to possible manufacturers and looking at commercially available products for more "inspiration". I've also had some initial discussions with a UK panel manufacturer who certainly gives the impression that this should be possible - he is talking about using GRP over Dow RTM styrofoam panels with higher density foam if needed in high-load areas, and the initial price he has quoted per square metre for custom panels is competitive to making my own over nida-core. And given that I don't have that much experience with large fibreglass projects or anywhere to work on large panels myself, I am definitely thinking having them custom made will be the better-finished option. Not as expensive as the custom panels you look to have been quoted for, but if you are US based then you would probably spend any funds saved on shipping.......

Please keep us all posted with your results and progress
 

VanIsle_Greg

I think I need a bigger truck!
Glad to see you reached out to Total Composites, a friend of mine is involved with them and their truck bodies.

Cool plans!
 
Very interesting. it sounds like we have very similar requirements - i too want a cab-over bed that can mount on a smaller truck such as a european-spec ford ranger super cab or nissan navara king cab, and I would prefer to go frameless if possible.

Is this the sort of thing you were thinking of?

Ford Ranger.001-min.jpeg

XPCamper has expanded into Europe and our V2 hard sided popup is available to view in the UK, and buy across Europe. It is a clamshell design where each half is a 35mm thick fibreglass foam sandwich, laid up in a female mould with bi-direction glass. When the two composite interior mouldings are bonded in you end up with an incredibly strong, stiff, and impact resistant shell. Because it is moulded it does not have weak points like a bonded composite panel camper would; or cold bridging and condensation issues like an aluminium framed composite camper would.

We are building custom trays with a cutaway design, four storage boxes and a 5ft drawer. They will be as light or lighter than the tub on the standard truck, but of course be much more practical. These trays are designed and built to match the styling of the parent vehicle; either a single cab or king cab variant of:
Ford Ranger
Nissan Navara
Toyota Hilux
Isuzu D-Max
Mitsubishi L200
VW Amarok
Toyota Landcruiser 79 Series
Mercedes G-wagen

The camper lifts off with jacks in 10 minutes. Leaving a flatbed base with 4 receiver sockets. Into these receivers you can fit drop sides, a custom canopy, or any other structure that you would like.

We have partnered with Arctic Trucks to build a demo vehicle using an Isuzu D-Max AT35 extended cab (see my avatar). This is an attractive option because the 35" tyres, suspension and other goodies are all covered by the OEM 5 year 125,000 mile warranty, and dealer finance. We can also build Navara and Hilux AT35s with the same OEM benefits.

Sadly building moulds is an expensive business for a one off camper. But can be economic if used multiple times. Hence we are able to offer completed camper and flatbed packages for a similar price to what it would cost you to build one yourself. You benefit by not having to do the labour, or spend ten years evolving the build process as we have. What you end up with is two yacht hulls: We've all seen those 50 year old neglected fibreglass yachts in marinas yet they are still floating unlike a similarly neglected wooden or aluminium yacht. Consequently an XPCamper has a residual value considerably higher than a homebuilt camper if you decide to head in a different direction. More details on our European website - see my profile for the link. If you need to sleep four people, rather than three, then probably best to give me a call ;-)
 

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