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Title:
COMPOSITE PANELS AND METHOD OF MANUFACTURE
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2020/012356
Kind Code:
A2
Abstract:
A method of making a composite panel is disclosed, in which a connector member template including a template of a first connection interface, or a connector member comprising a second connection interface, is disposed at an end of a core member. A thermoplastic skin is laminated onto the core member and the connector member. In the case of a connector member template disposed at the end of the core member, the connector member template is removed from the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin to form the first connection interface. In the case of a connector member disposed at the end of the core member, the connector member is left in place to form the second connection interface. Accordingly, there is formed a composite panel comprising a core member, a thermoplastic skin, and a first or second connection interface.

Inventors:
RATOUIT GUILLAUME (NL)
SAS MARTIN (NL)
KULKARNI SANDEEP CHANDRAKANT (NL)
Application Number:
PCT/IB2019/055839
Publication Date:
January 16, 2020
Filing Date:
July 09, 2019
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
SABIC GLOBAL TECHNOLOGIES BV (NL)
International Classes:
B32B38/10; B29C70/68; B29D24/00; B32B7/02; B32B37/02
Domestic Patent References:
WO2015129830A12015-09-03
Foreign References:
Other References:
"Plastic Additives Handbook", 2001, CARL HANSER VERLAG PUBLISHERS
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Claims:
CLAIMS

What is claimed is:

1. A method of making a composite panel, comprising:

disposing a connector member template comprising a template of a first connection interface at an end of a core member, or disposing a connector member comprising a second connection interface at an end of the core member;

thermally fusing a thermoplastic skin onto the core member and the connector member or connector member template along opposite surfaces of the core member; and

if a connector member template was disposed at the end of the core member, removing the connector member template from the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin to form the first connection interface on the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin;

thereby forming a composite panel comprising a core member, a thermoplastic skin, and a first or second connection interface.

2. The method of Claim 1, wherein a connector member template is disposed at the core member and removed after lamination to form the first connection interface.

3. The method of Claim 2, further comprising disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the connector member template and on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the connector member template.

4. The method of Claims 2 or 3, wherein the connector member template includes a release agent.

5. The method of any of claims 2-4, wherein the connector member template and the core member each include complementary shape profiles along an interface between the connector member template and the core member.

6. The method of any of claims 1-4, wherein the core member comprises a thermoplastic polymer that includes a polymer repeat unit structure in common with a polymer repeat unit structure of the thermoplastic skin.

7. The method of any of Claims 1-6, wherein the connector member template comprises a first connector member template disposed at a first end of the core member and a second connector member template disposed at a second end of the core member.

8. The method of Claim 7, wherein the first connector member template is disposed over opposite surfaces of the core member at the first end of the core member, and the second connector member template is disposed adjacent to the second end of the core member arranged such that the thermoplastic skin is laminated over a surface of the second connector member template.

9. The method of Claims 7 or 8, further comprising disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the first connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the second connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the first connector member template and on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the second connector member template.

10. The method of Claim 1, wherein the connector member is disposed at the end of the core member to form a composite panel comprising a second connection interface.

11. The method of Claim 10, wherein the connector member comprises a thermoplastic polymer and reinforcing filler.

12. The method of Claims 10 or 11, wherein the connector member comprises the thermoplastic polymer that includes a polymer repeat unit structure in common with a polymer repeat unit structure of the thermoplastic skin, or wherein an adhesive is disposed on the connector member.

13. A method of assembling a panel structure, comprising

making a plurality of composite panels according to any of Claims 1-12;

connecting the plurality of panels together along the first or second connection interfaces.

14. The method of Claim 13, further comprising applying adhesive or thermally welding to attach the thermoplastic skins to adjacent core members or connector members at the first or second connection interfaces, or attaching a patch of thermoplastic skin at an interface between skins of adjacent panels.

15. A composite panel, comprising

a core member;

thermoplastic skin members on opposite surfaces of the core member, the thermoplastic skin members arranged to extend beyond a first end of the core member with an open space between the thermoplastic skin members extending beyond the first end of the core member, and further arranged to leave the opposite surfaces of the core member exposed at a second end of the core member.

Description:
COMPOSITE PANELS AND METHOD OF MANUFACTURE

BACKGROUND

[0001] Composite panels are used for a variety of applications such as floors, walls, and other structural components. The panels are commonly assembled using some sort of interconnection between panels. There are specifications for interconnected panels, including ease of installation, and specifications such as weight, rigidity or stiffness, strength, or impact resistance. Current technologies do not always adequately meet all desired specifications, and there continues to be a desire for new approaches. For example, WO 2015/129830 Al discloses a composite panel including stiffeners interposed between sections of the panel core; however, the reference describes a complex assembly process not suitable for field assembly of panels, in which core sections are assembled together with the stiffeners, and then the entire assembly is disposed in an extrusion molding apparatus for application of a single continuous outer skin on each side of the assembled core structure.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION

[0002] A method of making a composite panel is disclosed. The method includes disposing a connector member template including a template of a first connection interface at an end of a core member, or disposing a connector member comprising a second connection interface at an end of a core member. A thermoplastic skin is laminated onto the core member and the connector member or connector template member along opposite surfaces of the core member. In the case of a connector member template disposed at the end of the core member, the connector member template is removed from the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin to form the first connection interface on the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin. In the case of a connector member disposed at the end of the core member, the connector member is left in place to form the second connection interface on the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin. Accordingly, there is formed a composite panel comprising a core member, a thermoplastic skin, and a first or second connection interface.

[0003] A method of assembling a panel structure is also disclosed. This method includes making a plurality of composite panels as described above or elsewhere throughout this disclosure, and connecting the plurality of panels together along the first or second connection interfaces.

[0004] A composite panel is also disclosed. The composite panel includes a core member and thermoplastic skin members on opposite surfaces of the core member. The thermoplastic skin members are arranged to extend beyond a first end of the core member, with an open space between the thermoplastic skin members extending beyond the first end of the core member. The core and skin members are further arranged to leave the opposite surfaces of the core member exposed at a second end of the core member.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0005] The following figures are exemplary embodiments wherein the like elements are numbered alike.

[0006] FIG. 1 schematically shows an example embodiment of a laminating apparatus and process.

[0007] FIGS. 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, and 2E are a schematic diagram of a cross-sectional view of an example embodiment showing fabrication and assembly of a composite panel.

[0008] FIGS. 3A, 3B, and 3C are a schematic diagram of a cross-sectional view of an example embodiment showing fabrication and assembly of a composite panel.

[0009] FIGS. 4A, 4B, and 4C are a schematic diagram of a cross-sectional view of an example embodiment showing fabrication and assembly of a composite panel.

[0010] FIGS. 5 A, 5B, and 5C are a schematic diagram of a cross-sectional view of an example embodiment showing fabrication and assembly of a composite panel.

[0011] FIGS 6 A, 6B, 6C, and 6D are schematic diagrams of a cross-sectional view of example embodiments ofjoinable composite panels.

[0012] FIG. 7 shows schematic diagrams of different connector member configurations.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0013] Composite panels as described herein can be fabricated with various types of thermal fusion processes, including both batch lamination (e.g., with a batch laminating press), semi-batch lamination, and continuous lamination processes. FIG. 1 shows a schematic diagram of a continuous pultrusion laminating apparatus and process 10. Other process such as a double belt press could also be used. As shown in FIG. 1, a number of individual core members 12 can be aligned on a moving belt (not shown) for delivery to a laminating station 14. Different types of laminating techniques can be utilized by the laminating station 14. For example, in some embodiments, the laminating station use heated compression such as with heated rollers (not shown) to laminate a continuous sheet of thermoplastic material from one or more rolls 16 onto the core members 12 to form an outer skin. In some embodiments, a thermoplastic material can be heated to a fluid state at a resin supply station 18 and applied to the core members 12 at a resin application station 20, then pultruded through a die at the laminating station 14 along with the core members 12. In some embodiments as discussed in greater detail below, the skins applied to the core members 12 can include a filler or other reinforcement, which can be mixed with the thermoplastic as chopped fibers at a resin supply station 18 or fed onto the core members as a continuous fabric, mesh, or web from one or more rolls 22 and then impregnated and coated with a thermoplastic material at the resin application station 20. A puller mechanism 24 is shown engaged and clamped to a continuous structure 26 of composite panels emerging from the laminating station 14, and is also shown as disengaged and unclamped at 24'. By way of example, the composite stack can be subjected to pressures of 5 to 15 Newtons per square centimeter (N/cm 2 ), or (0.5 to 1.5 megaPascal (MPa), or 0.5, 0.6, 0.7, 0.8, 0.9, 1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5 MPa or any value or range there between) and heat in a temperature of l40-l60°C. It should be noted that although embodiments herein are generally described as simple structures with a core and a skin on each side of the core, additional layers or plies can be included as is known in the art.

[0014] The overall thickness of the composite panels can be up to or exceeding several millimeters (mm). More specifically, the composite can have a thickness of 1 to 100 mm, 0.4 to 50 mm, 0.6 to 25 mm. The thickness of the composite can vary depending on the desired weight % of each laminate. The thickness of the composite can be obtained by controlling the thickness of the plies used to make the laminate. The composite panels can be rectangular; however, other embodiments can include triangular, square, or otherwise polygonal (whether having sharp and/or rounded corners), circular, elliptical, or otherwise rounded, or can have an irregular shape.

[0015] The panel skins can also be formed from any suitable thermoplastic polymer material. Thermoplastic polymer resins include but are not limited to oligomers, polymers, ionomers, dendrimers, copolymers such as graft copolymers, block copolymers (e.g., star block copolymers, random copolymers, etc.) and combinations including at least one of the foregoing. Examples of such polymeric resins include, but are not limited to, polycarbonates (e.g., blends of polycarbonate (such as, polycarbonate-polybutadiene blends, copolyester polycarbonates)), polystyrenes (e.g., copolymers of polycarbonate and styrene, polyphenylene ether-polystyrene blends), polyimides (e.g., polyetherimides), acrylonitrile-styrene-butadiene (ABS),

polyalkylmethacrylates (e.g., polymethylmethacrylates), polyesters (e.g., copolyesters, polythioesters), polyolefins (e.g., polypropylenes and polyethylenes, high density polyethylenes, low density polyethylenes, linear low density polyethylenes), polyamides (e.g.,

polyamideimides), polyarylates, polysulfones (e.g., polyarylsulfones, polysulfonamides), polyphenylene sulfides, polytetrafluoroethylenes, polyethers (e.g., polyether ketones, polyether etherketones, polyethersulfones), polyacrylics, polyacetals, polybenzoxazoles (e.g.,

polybenzothiazinophenothiazines, polybenzothiazoles), polyoxadiazoles,

polypyrazinoquinoxalines, polypyromellitimides, polyquinoxalines, polybenzimidazoles, polyoxindoles, polyoxoisoindolines (e.g., polydioxoisoindolines), polytriazines,

polypyridazines, polypiperazines, polypyridines, polypiperidines, polytriazoles, polypyrazoles, polypyrrolidines, polycarboranes, polyoxabicyclononanes, polydibenzofurans, polyphthalides, polyacetals, polyanhydrides, polyvinyls (e.g., polyvinyl ethers, polyvinyl thioethers, polyvinyl alcohols, polyvinyl ketones, polyvinyl halides, polyvinyl nitriles, polyvinyl esters,

polyvinylchlorides), polysulfonates, polysulfides, polyureas, polyphosphazenes, polysilazzanes, polysiloxanes, and combinations including at least one of the foregoing.

[0016] More particularly, the thermoplastic skin polymer can include, but is not limited to, polycarbonate resins (e.g., LEXAN™ resins, commercially available from SABIC such as LEX AN™ XHT, LEXAN™ HFD, etc.), polyphenylene ether-polystyrene blends (e.g.,

NORYL™ resins, commercially available from SABIC), polyetherimide resins (e.g., ETLTEM™ resins, commercially available from SABIC), polybutylene terephthalate-polycarbonate blends (e.g., XENOY™ resins, commercially available from SABIC), copolyestercarbonate resins (e.g. LEXAN™ SLX or LEXAN™ FST resins, commercially available from SABIC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene resins (e.g., CYCOLOY resins, commercially available from SABIC), polyetherimide/siloxane resins (e.g., SILTEM™, commercially available from SABIC), polypropylene resins, for example, long glass fiber filled polypropylene resins (e.g.,

STAMAX™ resins, commercially available from SABIC), and combinations including at least one of the foregoing resins. In some embodiments, the polymeric resins can include, but are not limited to, homopolymers and copolymers of a polycarbonate, a polyester, a polyacrylate, a polyamide, a polyetherimide, a polyphenylene ether, or a combination including at least one of the foregoing resins. The polycarbonate can include copolymers of polycarbonate (e.g., polycarbonate-polysiloxane, such as polycarbonate-polysiloxane block copolymer), linear polycarbonate, branched polycarbonate, end-capped polycarbonate (e.g., nitrile end-capped polycarbonate) blends of PC, such as PC/ABS blend, and combinations including at least one of the foregoing, for example a combination of branched and linear polycarbonate.

[0017] The core members can be formed from various core materials, such as polymer foam, honeycomb or other repeating cellular structures, balsa. The density of the core can be greater than or substantially equal to any one of, or between any two of: 20, 25, 50, 75, 100, 125, 150, 175, 200, 225, 250, 275, 300, 325, 350, 357, 400 kilograms per cubic meter (kg/m 3 ). For example, in some embodiments, the density of the core is 20-400 kg/m 3 . Composite foam structures can also be utilized such as a polymer foam loaded into a lattice support structure. Polymer foams can be prepared, for example, by mixing a thermoplastic polymer composition melt with a blowing agent (e.g., a hydrocarbon, substituted hydrocarbon such as a fluorocarbon, air, C0 2 ), cooling to solidify, and cutting into panel core members. Alternatively, polymer foams can be prepared by mixing or forming a blowing agent with a monomer or prepolymer mixture and then polymerizing. For example, a polyurethane foam can be prepared by including water in a reactive mixture comprising a polyisocyanate and a polyol (either or both of which can be in monomeric form or a prepolymer (e.g., oligomer or low molecular weight polymer), and the blowing agent can mixed in or can be produced in situ by including water in the reaction mixture to form CO2 via reaction with the polyisocyanate. The resulting polyurethane can itself be a thermoplastic. In some embodiments, the core member is formed from a thermoplastic composition, which can promote thermal fusion with the skin when it is heated during the lamination process. Examples of polymers for thermoplastic foams can include any of the polymers mentioned above for the skins, including but not limited to polyetherimides (e.g., ULTEM™ foams), polyurethanes, vinyl polymers (e.g., polyvinyl chloride), polyesters (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate), polypropylene, polyethylene, polycarbonate. In some

embodiments, the core can be fabricated from a thermoplastic polymer material that includes a polymer repeat unit structure in common with a polymer repeat unit structure of a thermoplastic skin, which can provide a technical effect of promoting adhesion between the core member and the skin. For example, both the core and the skin can be formed from the same polymer family, albeit with possible differences in molecular weight, side chain substituents, or presence or absence of copolymer segments in the polymer chain. Examples of such polymer families for the core member and skin include polyetherimides (e.g., EILTEM™ foams), polyurethanes, vinyl polymers (e.g., polyvinyl chloride), polyesters (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate), polypropylene, polyethylene.

[0018] In addition to thermoplastic polymer resin, the thermoplastic composition for panel skins or core can include chopped fiber or various additives. Fibers can be incorporated with a fiber sheet, web, or mesh such as 22 (FIG. 1) and infused with resin, or can be chopped and mixed at the resin supply station 18 (FIG. 1). Fiber sheets or rolls can be woven or non- woven, continuous or discontinuous, with fibers that are aligned or not aligned. In some embodiments, the fibers can be aligned, or can be continuous, or can be both aligned and continuous. The amount of fiber can vary depending on the target properties of the housing.

The fibers can include fibrous non-conductive fillers used in polymeric resins to impart improved properties to polymeric composites and having an aspect ratio greater than 1. Such fillers may exist in the form of whiskers, needles, rods, tubes, strands, elongated platelets, lamellar platelets, ellipsoids, micro fibers, nanofibers and nanotubes, elongated fullerenes, and the like. Where such fillers exist in aggregate form, an aggregate having an aspect ratio greater than 1 will also suffice for the purpose of this invention. Examples of such fillers well known in the art include those described in“Plastic Additives Handbook, 5 th Edition” Hans Zweifel, Ed, Carl Hanser Verlag Publishers, Munich, 2001. Non-limiting examples of fibrous fillers include glass fibers, basalt fibers, including textile glass fibers and quartz. Other fibrous fillers can also be used, such as short inorganic fibers, including processed mineral fibers such as those derived from blends comprising at least one of aluminum silicates, aluminum oxides, magnesium oxides, and calcium sulfate hemihydrate, boron fibers, ceramic fibers such as silicon carbide, and fibers from mixed oxides of aluminum, boron and silicon. Also included among fibrous fillers are single crystal fibers or“whiskers” including silicon carbide, alumina, boron carbide, iron, nickel, copper. In addition, organic reinforcing fibrous fillers and synthetic reinforcing fibers may be used in the present invention. This includes organic polymers capable of forming fibers such as polyethylene terephthalate, polybutylene terephthalate and other polyesters, polyarylates, polyethylene, polyvinylalcohol, polytetrafluoroethylene, acrylic resins, high tenacity fibers with high thermal stability including aromatic polyamides, polyaramid fibers, polybenzimidazole, polyimide fibers such as polyimide 2080 and PBZ fiber; and polyphenylene sulfide, polyether ether ketone, polyimide, polybenzoxazole, aromatic polyimides or polyetherimides, and the like. Glass fibers scan also be used such as "E-glass," "A-glass," "C-glass," "D-glass," "R-glass," "S-glass," as well as E-glass derivatives that are fluorine-free and/or boron- free. Combinations of any of the foregoing fibers may also be used. The amount of fiber can vary depending on the target properties panel. In some embodiments, the fiber is present in the thermoplastic composition in an amount in a range with a low end of 30 wt.%, 40 wt.%, or 50 wt.%, and an upper end of 50 wt.%, 60 wt.%, or 80 wt.% based on the total weight of the thermoplastic composition. These endpoints can be independently combined to form a number of ranges, and each possible range is hereby explicitly disclosed, e.g., 30-50 wt.%, 30-60 wt.%, 30-80 wt.%, 40-50 wt.%, 40-60 wt.%, 40-80 wt.%, 50-60 wt.%, and 50-80 wt.%. In some embodiments, each of plies in a laminate composite can include a unidirectional ply, or a ply having fibers, substantially all of which are aligned in a single direction. More particularly, in each of the plies, the fibers can be aligned with either the length of laminate or the width of the laminate. The phrase,“aligned with” means within 10 degrees of parallel. Other embodiments of the present laminates can include one or more unidirectional plies, each having fibers that are aligned in any suitable direction. For example, a unidirectional ply can include fibers aligned in a direction, where the smallest angle between the direction and a length of a laminate including ply can be greater than or substantially equal to any one of, or between any two of: 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, or 90 degrees. For example, in some embodiments, the angle between the direction and a length of a laminate including ply is from greater than 0 degrees up to 90 degrees.

[0019] An additive composition can be used, comprising one or more additives selected to achieve a desired property, with the proviso that the additive(s) are also selected so as to not significantly adversely affect a desired property of the thermoplastic composition. The additive composition or individual additives can be mixed at a suitable time during the mixing of the components for forming the composition. The additive can be soluble or non-soluble in the thermoplastic polymer. The additive composition can include an impact modifier, flow modifier, non-fiber filler (e.g., a particulate polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), glass, carbon, mineral, or metal), antioxidant, heat stabilizer, light stabilizer, ultraviolet (UV) light stabilizer, UV absorbing additive, plasticizer, lubricant, release agent (such as a mold release agent), adhesion promoter, antistatic agent, anti-fog agent, antimicrobial agent, colorant (e.g, a dye or pigment), surface effect additive, radiation stabilizer, flame retardant (e.g., nitrogen-phosphorus compounds, phosphoric acid, metal oxides, organo-phosphorus compounds, nitrogen-containing polymers, talc, sulfonates or salts thereof, halogen-containing compounds, silica, hydrated oxides, organic polymers, nanoclays, organoclay, organic polymers, silicon-phosphorous- nitrogen compounds, and mixtures thereof), anti-drip agent (e.g., a PTFE-encapsulated styrene- acrylonitrile copolymer (TSAN)), or a combination comprising one or more of the foregoing.

For example, a combination of a heat stabilizer, mold release agent, and ultraviolet light stabilizer can be used. In general, the additives are used in the amounts generally known to be effective. For example, the total amount of the additive composition (other than any impact modifier, filler, or reinforcing agent) can be 0.001 to 10.0 wt%, or 0.01 to 5 wt%, each based on the total weight of the polymer in the composition. Additives or fibers can also be compounded into a masterbatch with a desired polymeric resin and fed into the resin supply station 18.

[0020] As discussed above, a method of making composite panels utilizes a connector member template or a connector member. Example embodiments with connector member templates are shown in FIGS. 2A-2E, 3 A-3B, 4A-4B, and 5A-5B. With reference to FIGS. 2A-2F, as shown in FIG. 2A, a first connector member template 32 is disposed over opposite surfaces of the core member 12 at a first end of the core member 12. A second connector member template 34 is disposed adjacent to a second end of the core member 12. The connector member templates 32 and 34 can be formed from any material, including but not limited to metal, plastic, or ceramic, and can include a release layer (e.g., polytetrafluoroethylene) or can be formed from an adhesion-resistant material to facilitate removal of the connector member templates during fabrication. The connector member templates 32 and 34 can be position and removed along the direction of the arrows shown in FIGS. 2A and 2B. As shown in FIG. 2B, a thermoplastic polymer skin 36 and a thermoplastic skin 38 are laminated onto the opposite surfaces of the core member 12, with the skins 36 and 38 extending over opposite surfaces of the second connector member template 34. In FIG. 2C, the first and second connector member templates 32 and 34 have been removed, leaving a composite panel with the core member 12 covered by polymer skins 36 and 38, with a first connection interface 40 that includes an exposed length (d) of the core member 12 at a first end of the composite panel, and a second connection interface 42 that includes a length (d) of exposed internal surfaces of the skins 36 and 38 at a second end of the composite panel. Assembly of the above-described composite panel with a second composite panel prepared the same way with core member 12', polymer skins 36' and 38', and first and second connection interfaces 40' and 42', is also shown in FIG. 2C.

Assembly can be carried out by relative movement of the panels along the direction of the arrows shown in FIG. 2C, with the first connection interface 40' engaging with the second connection interface 42. The assembled composite panels are shown in FIGS. 2D and 2E. The connection between adjacent composite panels can be secured with various adhesion techniques. For example, in some embodiments a layer of an adhesive (e.g., a thermoplastic adhesive, pressure-sensitive adhesive, a curable adhesive) can be disposed on the connecting surfaces of the first and second connection interfaces 40' and 42, either during fabrication or during assembly of the panels into a panel structure. Non-limiting examples of adhesives include ethylene vinyl acetate, polypropylene, polypropylene-polyethylene terephthalate blends, acrylics, nitriles, silicone rubbers, styrene-butadiene- styrene copolymers, styrene- ethylene/butylene-styrene copolymers, styrene-ethylene/propylene copolymers, styrene- isoprene-styrene copolymers, a combination thereof, or blend thereof. In some embodiments, the adhesive is mixed with other additives including antioxidants, heat stabilizers, flow modifiers, colorants, etc ., or any combinations thereof. In some embodiments, thermal welding can be applied to the connected connection interfaces to soften the thermoplastic skin 36, 38 and optionally the core member 12 if it is also thermoplastic. In some embodiments, a patch 44 can be attached over the interface between adjacent skins 36 and 36' or over adjacent skins 38 and 38'. This can be accomplished with thermal welding (e.g., with the patch 44 made of a compatible thermoplastic material such as the same thermoplastic material of the polymer skins 36, 38) or with an adhesive on the patch 44.

[0021] The configuration of the first and second connector template members 32, 34 (and therefore the configuration of the first and second connection interfaces 40, 42) shown in FIGS. 2A-2E is one example embodiment with a vertical joint, and other configurations can also be used to produce different types of joints. Additional example embodiments of joint configurations are shown in FIGS. 3A-3B, 4A-4B, and 5A-5B, which are analogous to FIGS. 2B and 2C and carry forward the numbering of FIGS. 2B-2C without the need for further identification of the labeled components. As shown in these Figures, FIGS. 3 A-3B show an angled joint, FIGS. 4A-4B show a step joint, and FIGS. 5A-5B show a tongue-in-groove joint.

[0022] The above-described Figures show connection interfaces formed by integration of removable connector member templates 32 and 34 during fabrication of the panels, followed by removal of the connector member templates to form inter-panel connection interfaces 40 and 42. In some embodiments, connector members can be integrated with the panels and left in place to form inter-panel connection interfaces, as shown in FIGS. 6A-6D. It is noted that as used herein, the term“connection interface” means a contoured surface at an end of the composite panel, with the contours arranged to receive a contoured end surface of another panel for connection of the two panels. The connection interface, which can be formed with a template as described in FIGS. 2A-2E, 3A/3B, 4A/4B, or 5A/5B or can include an attached connector member as shown in FIGS. 6A-6E and 7, is thus suitable for connection to another panel. As shown in FIGS. 6 A and 6B, example embodiments are shown of composite panels with different connector member arrangements. As with the previous Figures, the composite panels include the core member 12 with polymer skins 36 and 38. An example embodiment of a composite panel of FIG. 6A includes first and second connector members 46 and 48, which alternate in an over-under joining configuration. Another example embodiment of a composite panel of FIG.

6B includes first and second connector members 50 and 52 having matching orientations.

Assembly of the panels of FIGS. 6A and 6B is schematically shown in FIGS. 6C and 6D, respectively, where panel structures are shown with the panels assembled together. Assembly can be carried out as described above for panels prepared by integration and removal of connector member templates, including the use of adhesives or other bonding techniques or thermal welding.

[0023] The connector members can be formed from any of a variety of materials and fabrication techniques. In some embodiments, the connector members can be formed from a thermoplastic composition, e.g., by extrusion. In some embodiments, the connector members are formed from a thermoplastic polymer that includes a polymer repeat unit structure in common with either or both of the thermoplastic skins or thermoplastic core members, which can provide a technical effective of promoting adhesion of the components. Any of the polymer families with common polymer repeat unit structures described above with respect to the core member and the skins can also be utilized with the connector members. In some embodiments, the connector members can include reinforcing fillers (see description of fillers hereinabove) or can include internal cut-outs to promote a high strength to weight ratio. In some embodiments, physical properties such as strength at the assembled joint between panels can be equivalent to or better than those properties in the bulk panel.

[0024] Variations on the connection interface of the connector members are shown in FIG. 7, with the over/under connection interface configuration of the connector member 50, a saw-tooth connection interface configuration of a connector member 54, a square notch configuration connection interface of a connector member 56, a z-interlocking configuration connection interface 58, and a tongue-in-groove configuration connection interface 60.

[0025] In some embodiments, the composite and/or laminates can be decorated. In use, a surface of the composite or laminates can be subjected to printing with ink. In an embodiment, an exposed surface of the composite or a laminate surface opposite the surface adjacent to the core can be subsequently decorated, in particular printed with markings such as alphanumerics, graphics, symbols, indicia, logos, aesthetic designs, multicolored regions, and a combination that includes at least one of the foregoing. In some embodiments, each ply can be decorated. In some embodiments, one of the exposed (or outer) surfaces of the composite can be subjected to common curing and/or surface modification processes. Non-limiting examples of such processes can include heat-setting, texturing, calendaring, embossing, corona treatment, flame treatment, plasma treatment, and vacuum deposition.

[0026] In some embodiments, the composite can include a cap layer material. The cap layer can be a film laminate made from a different polymer and process than the composite laminates. By way of example, it can be an extruded film material, which is for example chemical resistant to cleaning agents. Film materials used can include polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), polyvinyl fluoride (PVF), poly(methylmethacrylate) (PMMA), multilayered

combinations and blends thereof. These film materials can be applied by roller lamination or double belt press lamination equipment. Also aesthetic film materials can be used to produce, for example, a wood grain or metallic surface. The cap layer can be created by co-extrusion (single or multi-manifold). In some embodiments, an anti-microbial surface can be created by co-extrusion of film materials with silver. In some embodiments, the cap layer can be made by screen-printing an aesthetic or functional ink layer. In most instances, these cap layers will be thermoformable.

[0027] This disclosure further encompasses the following aspects.

[0028] Aspect 1. A method of making a composite panel, comprising

disposing a connector member template comprising a template of a first connection interface at an end of a core member, or disposing a connector member comprising a second connection interface at an end of a core member;

thermally fusing a thermoplastic skin onto the core member and the connector member or connector template member along opposite surfaces of the core member; and

if a connector member template was disposed at the end of the core member, then removing the connector member template from the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin to form the first connection interface on the laminated core member and thermoplastic skin;

thereby forming a composite panel comprising a core member, a thermoplastic skin, and a first or second connection interface.

[0029] Aspect 2. The method of Embodiment 1, wherein a connector member template is disposed at the core member and removed after lamination to form a first connection interface.

[0030] Aspect 3. The method of Aspect 2, further comprising disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the connector member template and on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the connector member template.

[0031] Aspect 4. The method of Aspects 2 or 3, wherein the connector member template includes a release agent.

[0032] Aspect 5. The method of any of Aspects 2-4, wherein the connector member template and the core member each include complementary shape profiles along an interface between the connector member template and the core member.

[0033] Aspect 6. The method of any of Aspects 1-4, wherein the core member comprises a thermoplastic polymer that includes a polymer repeat unit structure in common with a polymer repeat unit structure of the thermoplastic skin.

[0034] Aspect 7. The method of any of Aspects 1-6, wherein the connector member template comprises a first connector member template disposed at a first end of the core member and a second connector member template disposed at a second end of the core member. [0035] Aspect 8. The method of Aspect 7, wherein the first connector member template is disposed over opposite surfaces of the core member at the first end of the core member, and the second connector member template is disposed adjacent to the second end of the core member arranged such that the thermoplastic skin is laminated over a surface of the second connector member template.

[0036] Aspect 9. The method of Aspect 6, further comprising disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the first connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the second connector member template, or disposing an adhesive on a portion of the core member exposed by removal of the first connector member template and on a portion of the thermoplastic skin exposed by removal of the second connector member template.

[0037] Aspect 10. The method of Aspect 1, wherein a connector member is disposed at the end of the core member to form a composite panel comprising a second connection interface.

[0038] Aspect 11. The method of Aspect 10, wherein the connector member comprises a thermoplastic polymer and reinforcing filler.

[0039] Aspect 12. The method of Aspects 10 or 11, wherein the connector member comprises a thermoplastic polymer that includes a polymer repeat unit structure in common with a polymer repeat unit structure of the thermoplastic skin, or wherein an adhesive is disposed on the connector member.

[0040] Aspect 13. A method of assembling a panel structure, comprising

making a plurality of composite panels according to any of Aspects 1-12;

connecting the plurality of panels together along the first or second connection interfaces.

[0041] Aspect 14. The method of Aspect 13, further comprising applying adhesive or thermally welding to attach the thermoplastic skins to adjacent core members or connector members at the first or second connection interfaces, or attaching a patch of thermoplastic skin at an interface between skins of adjacent panels.

[0042] Aspect 15. A composite panel, comprising

a core member;

thermoplastic skin members on opposite surfaces of the core member, the thermoplastic skin members arranged to extend beyond a first end of the core member with an open space between the thermoplastic skin members extending beyond the first end of the core member, and further arranged to leave the opposite surfaces of the core member exposed at a second end of the core member.

[0043] Aspect 16. The composite panel of any of Aspects 1 - 12.

[0044] The compositions, methods, and articles can alternatively comprise, consist of, or consist essentially of, any appropriate materials, steps, or components herein disclosed. The compositions, methods, and articles can additionally, or alternatively, be formulated so as to be devoid, or substantially free, of any materials (or species), steps, or components, that are otherwise not necessary to the achievement of the function or objectives of the compositions, methods, and articles.

[0045] All ranges disclosed herein are inclusive of the endpoints, and the endpoints are independently combinable with each other (e.g., ranges of“up to 25 wt.%, or, more specifically, 5 wt.% to 20 wt.%”, is inclusive of the endpoints and all intermediate values of the ranges of“5 wt.% to 25 wt.%,” etc.). “Combinations” is inclusive of blends, mixtures, alloys, reaction products, and the like. The terms“first,”“second,” and the like, do not denote any order, quantity, or importance, but rather are used to distinguish one element from another. The terms “a” and“an” and“the” do not denote a limitation of quantity, and are to be construed to cover both the singular and the plural, unless otherwise indicated herein or clearly contradicted by context. “Or” means“and/or” unless clearly stated otherwise. Reference throughout the specification to“some embodiments”,“an embodiment”, and so forth, means that a particular element described in connection with the embodiment is included in at least one embodiment described herein, and may or may not be present in other embodiments. In addition, it is to be understood that the described elements may be combined in any suitable manner in the various embodiments.

[0046] Unless specified to the contrary herein, all test standards are the most recent standard in effect as of the filing date of this application, or, if priority is claimed, the filing date of the earliest priority application in which the test standard appears.

[0047] Unless defined otherwise, technical and scientific terms used herein have the same meaning as is commonly understood by one of skill in the art to which this application belongs. All cited patents, patent applications, and other references are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety. However, if a term in the present application contradicts or conflicts with a term in the incorporated reference, the term from the present application takes precedence over the conflicting term from the incorporated reference.

[0048] While particular embodiments have been described, alternatives, modifications, variations, improvements, and substantial equivalents that are or may be presently unforeseen may arise to applicants or others skilled in the art. Accordingly, the appended claims as filed and as they may be amended are intended to embrace all such alternatives, modifications variations, improvements, and substantial equivalents.