Restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels; we leave the comfort of our homes to indulge in these spaces.
COVID-19 restrictions have eased and the long-desired opportunity to frequent our forgotten social lives is now present. Properly designed noise control measures in your public spaces can make a difference between a returning customer and a bad Yelp review in these post pandemic times.
Sound: A Health Risk
We cannot escape noise. Our daily lives are inundated with a variety of sounds from the landscapers outside our homes to the swirling conversations surrounding us at the bar.
The most serious potential risks to our health are:
But the most pervasive effects trigger issues with our physiological health.
Fact: Sound levels above 85 dB are considered harmful. Exposure to sound levels at or above 120 dB can cause immediate damage.
Sound disrupts our sleep, concentration, heightens our stressors by releasing cortisol, elevates blood pressure and heart rate…
And, to put it simply, too much sound is annoying. We don’t see noise or feel it, so we write off issues as non-noise induced. But for the average guest, noisy spaces make for uncomfortable environments.
Why So Noisy?
The number one complaint when dining out is poor service. The second is noise.
So when did the hospitality industry become so noisy? And why?
The trending upward levels of noise may have started in the mid-1990s with well known chef Mario Batali when he began playing the music in the kitchen and dining area. Now it has become commonplace to amp up the volume to create a “buzz” that draws people in.
It has also become a tactic for quicker turnaround. Research has shown that restaurant and bar owners use excessive levels of noise because it pushes patrons to eat faster thereby leaving sooner.
All five of our senses influence our perceived reality of not only places, but the food and drinks we consume. But further scientific research has shown evidence that noise interferes with our sense of taste. Because noise is a distractive nuisance, it becomes easy to mess with the senses.
Other purposeful choices in décor amplify noise. Modern design trends are the greatest conductors of sound. Gone are the days of plush booths and tablecloths; elements of style that helped dampen noisy spaces. Substituted with glass tables and bare floors, sound now bounces around freely with little absorption opportunities.
Where to Look for Acoustic Problems
To understand sound, it is good to know the basics of how sound travels.
Sound is vibrational energy. There is direct sound which travels directly from the source to the receiving end (for example, you and your partner talking over breakfast in your apartment). And then there is reflected sound. Reflected sound is direct sound bouncing off walls, floors and other mediums. The reflected sound is what gives us reverberations or echo. And why sound becomes exasperated in most spaces.
Think of a disco ball except with loud music, kitchen sounds, employees working, and the rolling conversations all overlap and bounce off one another making for, “Say that again” and “I can’t hear you” staple quotes of the night.
Sound treatment can be expensive. Hiring acoustic engineers and sound consultants can drive up the price. And altering your already designed interior can create issues for an already established institution.
There are simple ways to addressing noise issues without mind blowing renovations. First, taking inventory of intentional noise practices (as we mentioned, loud music) coupled with the décor of your space will help you pinpoint where sound is amplified.
Keep in mind the materials in your space (hard materials like steel or glass are non-absorbing) and the landscape of your interior. A cheap alternative to testing for room acoustics is a simple clap test. In your space, clap your hands together and wait to hear for the initial “slap” followed by its echo. The longer the sound continues, the more reverberation time your room holds. It’s an easy way to hear for where your acoustical problems lie.
Balancing Noise Levels with Acoustic Treatment
Thankfully, acousticissues in your space are not a unique problem. And most acoustic insulation solutions do not have to take away from the defined aesthetic of your brand.
The addition of acoustic panels improves sound quality by reducing the amount of reflected sound. Materials like PET (recycled polyester) absorb sound waves, dampening the sound by transferring the vibrational energy into kinetic energy, or heat. And they come in a variety of forms. Placing your acoustic panels accordingly (and relative to your space and its dimensions), you can effectively mitigate noise.
What Types of Acoustic Panels are Best for You?
Sound is the main issue. Turning off the music won’t change sound traveling. To find the right acoustic treatment, you need to take these things in to consideration:
Dimensions of your space (high ceilings, etc.)
Furniture materials, flooring, windows, doors
Noise absorbing material and “dead” space
Keep in mind the tone of your space. Acoustic panels do not have to dull the vibe; with so many options and designs, you can enhance without compromise.
Here are some acoustic solutions that can fit in to your space.
Acoustic Panels and Art
Acoustic panels can be any size and shape, placed in a variety of configurations at designated reflections points. In this scenario, less can be more, enhancing walls with modern visuals.
Acoustic panels can also double as artwork. Stock photos or custom images can be printed onto any size panel to give you a piece of artwork that works as your sound dampening tool. And in our post-COVID world, you can utilize acoustic panels as custom dividers (movable or fixed) for designated areas that will buffer sound and maintain safety regulations. They can also act like booths without the bulky nature.
Ceiling Baffles and Clouds
To better your bar and restaurant guests’ experience, hanging acoustic solutions can mitigate noise in a non-conspicuous manner. Or conspicuous: they are perfect examples of how to create artistic focal points in your space. Depending on shape and size, they are effective at tuning out unwanted noise in greater ranges of angles.
Plus, they can double as lighting fixtures, creating a two for one in your space’s décor.
One product, multiple functions. Sound absorbing furniture works well for physical comfort and sound buffering. In modern and sleek establishments, complimenting stark lines with plush furniture in lobby and rest areas soften trending contemporary styles and invite your patron so stay.
You Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel for Sound Management
Rendering your space acoustically “healthy” for patrons (and employees) can be easy without re-designing.
At BIT, we manufacture our Poly-Sonic Acoustic panel line to meet any acoustical need. Our panels are 100% polyester, free of any fiberglass or VOC, and customizable for all specialized products. From rolled good to hanging baffles, our partially recycled acoustic panels create top quality finished products.
Fiberglass is the most commonly used insulative material in the world. And its popularity is no fluke. Fiberglass is inexpensive, energy-efficient, and relatively safe in fires. But research has shed some light on the possible dangers of fiberglass and many people are beginning to ask, “Is fiberglass insulation safe to use?”
In short, fiberglass is safe to use in most situations. There are countless government agencies devoted to making sure that all of the materials used in building homes and offices are safe.
However, there are some precautions to keep in mind when working with fiberglass. But before we dive into those, let’s learn about the beginnings of fiberglass insulation.
History of Fiberglass Insulation
Glass fibers have been produced in various ways for hundreds of years. But it wasn’t until 1932 when Games Slayter discovered that blowing air at molten glass produced fine glass fibers.
This method was refined by Owens Corning in 1935 and mass production began shortly after. Owens Corning is still one of the world’s largest manufacturers of fiberglass insulation to this day.
Fiberglass soon became one of the best and most reliable forms of insulation. Its inexpensive uses in both residential and commercial settings made it a popular choice among homebuilders and construction companies.
In 1965, the U.S. passed a law requiring all new homes to be built with insulation. This new requirement, in addition to the phasing out of asbestos, pushed the popularity of fiberglass insulation even further.
Games Slayter’s original method of manufacturing fiberglass through the use of heat and blowing air is still used today. But other methods have been created since then.
One of the most widely used forms of fiberglass manufacturing involves heating glass until it is molten and then forcing it through super fine holes. This method has proven to be a safer and more consistent process than Slayter’s original process.
Once the glass has been made into various lengths of fiber, different resins may be added to increase its strength.
Applications of fiberglass vary widely but include common items such as swimming pools, car parts, and even surfboards!
Is Fiberglass Insulation Safe?
The discussions regarding fiberglass insulation’s safety began in the late 1960s when Dr. Mearl F. Stanton of the National Cancer Institute began studying the health effects of fiberglass.
His research showed that certain sizes of fiberglass were found to be carcinogenic to rats. This finding indicated that similar effects would be applicable to humans.
However, more recent studies have shown that there are no carcinogens in the fiberglass itself but rather in the binders used in the production process. And Dr. Stanton’s research is considered to be outdated.
But it’s important to keep in mind that because a material is safe to be used in the right conditions, this does not mean it is completely harmless.
Fiberglass is a material known to be completely safe at rest. So, walking around a manufacturing plant with exposed fiberglass insulation rolls or an office with visible fiberglass panels would be perfectly acceptable.
The dangers of fiberglass insulation arise when the material is disturbed. The movement of fiberglass will disperse tiny glass particles into the air which have been shown to irritate the skin and lungs if inhaled.
Precautions For Working with Fiberglass
When working with fiberglass, it is important to wear the appropriate safety gear:
Long Sleeves and Pants: Fiberglass particles can cause irritation to any exposed skin that it comes in contact with. Long sleeves, pants, socks, and close-toed shoes will decrease the points of contact.
Gloves: It goes without saying that if you need to wear long sleeves to protect against fiberglass, then you should absolutely cover the part of your skin coming in direct contact with the insulation itself.
Sealed Goggles: Your eyes are a very sensitive part of your body and it’s important to keep microscopic glass fibers out of them! But ensure that the goggles being used are sealed to the face, otherwise, micro sized pieces of glass can still find their way into your eyes.
Mask: Probably the most important piece of protection against fiberglass particles is a dust-proof mask. While fiberglass is shown to be relatively harmless in short periods, long-term exposure to fiberglass without a mask can cause significant damage to the lungs. A mask should be worn at all times when working with fiberglass insulation.
It should be pointed out that fiberglass has not been labeled as an extremely harmful material by the U.S. or any other government. But this does not mean that precautions don’t need to be taken.
Think of it like this, a broken glass window is anything but safe. Sharp glass fragments can cause large cuts to those who don’t take the necessary precautions. But you don’t need to call a hazardous waste team to clean up broken glass. All you need are gloves, a broom, and some common sense.
Working with fiberglass insulation is very similar. Can it be harmful? Yes. But if you ensure that the necessary safety measures are taken then you will be perfectly fine.
Should Fiberglass Be Contained?
In most cases, fiberglass insulation is going to be contained behind sheetrock walls or between floors. But some types of insulation are designed to be out in the open and this has the chance to cause harm.
As stated above, fiberglass insulation is completely harmless when at rest. It is only when fiberglass is disturbed that it becomes potentially harmful.
This should be considered if you plan to keep fiberglass out in the open.
For example, acoustic insulation panels are frequently made out of a fiberglass blend. These panels can be hung from ceilings, placed on walls, or even be used as desk dividers. This places visitors at risk if they try to touch the panels.
But direct contact isn’t all that’s needed to cause harm. Fiberglass insulation placed near an A/C or fan can be disturbed by the airflow and release dangerous glass particles and chemical binders (such as formaldehyde) into the air.
So, just remember to be cautious if using fiberglass in an open environment. If you are not certain that the placement of fiberglass insulation is safe, then be sure to contact a professional for a second opinion.
Alternatives to Fiberglass
Fiberglass is likely to be the first choice with many builders. But, if the potentially negative effects outweigh the benefits, then there are many alternatives available on the market.
Cellulose is a type of insulation made from recycled materials such as newspapers and cardboard. It is a great alternative to fiberglass.
One of the drawbacks of cellulose is its struggle to wick away moisture. If cellulose insulation gets wet, then you run the risk of mold and mildew growing before it can fully dry.
Another downside is that cellulose is not naturally fireproof. And the chemicals used to make it fireproof can be rather unpleasant to work with.
Wool can be a great alternative to fiberglass because of its natural insulation properties, ability to wick away moisture, and resistance to fire.
One of wool’s other benefits is that it will keep your house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Homes with wool insulation see a decrease in their heating bill.
However, be prepared to pay a premium for wool compared to its synthetic competitors.
In the case of soundproofing insulation, polyester is a great alternative to fiberglass blends. Polyester is completely harmless in all situations, even when in direct contact, and its soundproofing capabilities are able to compete with those of fiberglass.
Our Work with Fiberglass and Alternatives
Our company, Bouckaert Industrial Textiles, has been manufacturing industrial felts since 1988. And one of the main fibers used in these industrial felts is fiberglass.
However, in 2010 we noticed the trend towards companies looking for a safer alternative to fiberglass and so we began researching alternatives.
Our research showed that polyester was one of the best, most affordable, and safest alternatives to fiberglass. Polyester also offers further flexibility in regard to aesthetics like color and molded shapes that are more pleasing to today’s modern interior designers. Today, our line of Poly-Sonic acoustic felt panels are made out of 100% polyester.
While we do still manufacture fiberglass in cases where there is no viable alternative, we have taken large steps towards ensuring our manufacturing process is absent of the dangerous chemical binders which make fiberglass so unsafe.
In design, sound matters. The function of a space is not determined by its aesthetics only but also by the sounds it makes.
“Sound may be invisible or only unconsciously perceived, but that doesn’t make it any less an architectural material than wood, glass, concrete, stone or light.” – Michael Kimmelman.
Sound inextricably becomes attached to function. But because design begins first on paper, it isn’t until we inhabit a room that we determine how to relegate noise.
The growing popularity of decorative acoustic felt panel installation proves that balancing the acoustics of a space does not have to clash with its original design elements. Although it’s true one size does not fit all when it comes to acoustic treatment, polyester felt is proving to be the choice material for acoustic felt panels by the design industry.
What is PET?
Polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, is a thermoplastic polymer resin comprised of recycled transparent plastics. PET is frequently referred to as polyester in textile applications but retains its acronym PET regarding packaging, bottling, etc.
Polyester was first patented in the 1940s by Dupont chemists in Delaware, U.S.A, as a new textile fiber. It wasn’t until the 1970s that new technology made it possible to mold PET into bottles. Today, it is the number one recycled plastic worldwide.
PET is highly flexible in its natural state and therefore easily moldable for its end use depending upon how it is processed. Its applications as the number one recycled plastic range from food packaging and bottling to fabrics to thermoforming in manufacturing and automotive insulation.
The textile industry is a significant end-user of PET, making up about 60% of overall PET consumption.
What is Polyester Felt?
Polyester felt is made of recycled PET plastics, mostly water bottles or other single-use products. The recycled material is compressed and melted down until left with plastic flakes. The plastic bits are then remelted and extruded as fiber. This fiber is then used to produce rolls or sheets of PET textile material, similar in any felting process. It can contain anywhere from 0% to 100% recycled content. Not only is it sustainable, but it is fast becoming the premium choice for sound dampening performance in lieu of other traditional materials, like fiberglass.
Polyester felt’s lightweight durable nature (combined with an additional lower melting point ) create the ideal properties for acoustic felt panel design. Its capability to be easily cut, variety of color options, and limitless forms are making polyester acoustic panels part of the visual landscape in modern interior design.
Benefits of Using Polyester Felt in Acoustic Insulation
When we design for sound, we are designing for experience. Before, implementing sound insulation into already existing spaces meant the only solution was to hang unattractive hanging baffles and deal with the eyesore.
Now, polyester felt delivers an appealing design in junction with high-functioning performance rates of acoustic insulation.
There is a symphony of reasons the design industry is choosing polyester felt over any other material; acoustically, environmentally, and aesthetically.
Excellent Acoustic Performance
While it is possible, it is challenging to include acoustic design into a space before it has been occupied. In most cases, sound is the last piece an architect will fit into the puzzle. Knowing how a room will be used and where the potential challenges will be for sound issues are essential pieces of the puzzle to negotiate when implementing acoustic solutions. The building layout may not be flexible, but the acoustic solutions can be.
Polyester acoustic felt soaks up ambient noise in a variety of forms. Do you need to mitigate noise in your office conference room? Consider hanging acoustic clouds strategically over spots where noise reflection is at its highest. Are your gym guests experiencing an overload of noise in a large open floor plan? Ceiling baffles would work best here, especially when dealing with higher ceilings.
Using polyester acoustic felt to your best advantage involves finding your key sources of noise and adopting different paneling styles to adapt to the parameters that will help aurally orient your space.
Appealing Function in Design
If, as Kimmerman claims, sound is as vital as wood is for building framing, how far can we take acoustic solutions? Structural possibilities with PET are far-reaching. Its flexible form can be bent, molded, and shaped to any design for an assortment of interior applications, including furniture and lighting fixtures. Designers can exercise creative freedom with a host of different color options and texture choices (dependent on manufacturing methods).
Felt itself is a nuanced fabric that works to your elemental design. You can play it safe and subtle, blending your acoustic felt panels into the background or creating statement pieces that accentuate your already developed design theme. Acoustic insulation can be as simple as under-carpeting or as intricate as 3D ceiling baffles.
Ultimately, polyester felt complements a space without compromising it.
The Sustainable Choice
It is estimated that Americans alone throw away upwards of 35 billion plastic bottles a year. And subsequently, roughly 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans. But a major culprit of waste is the textile industry adding billions of pounds of waste to our landfills and depleting energy and water resources.
Reworking the end-use for so many single-use plastic products (and the proposed 95% of all textiles that do have the potential to be recycled), PET is the friendliest raw material in textile applications (among other industries) as well as the healthiest.
Polyester needle punch felt is manufactured without the demand for any chemical additives like glue or resin to bond the fibers. Furthermore, polyester felt does not give off VOCs or odors. This makes it safe for indoor use (able to meet building standards and certifications) while requiring fewer energy resources in the manufacturing process.
The amount of recycled content in PET material can vary from 0% to 100%, depending on the providing manufacturer’s specs and the customer’s desire for a “greener” source. It is not only recyclable at the end of its life but possibly reusable dependent on its modularity.
Designing for the Ears
The acoustic properties of a space have a significant impact on its residents. Managing unwanted noise by integrating acoustic solutions promotes your community’s overall wellness and health, whether it be at home or in your commercial office building.
In the acoustic design process, custom is the standard. Finding the best product for your project starts with making the quality choice of polyester felt. At BIT, we manufacture 100% polyester acoustic panels under our Poly-Sonic line. Each panel has a recycled content of at least 60% PET plastic and is made entirely in the US in our facilities.
Poly-Sonic acoustic felt provides fantastic sound quality that is available in any weight, thickness, or color necessary to meet your specialized products’ demands. We also provide rolled goods that can be molded into any form of acoustic panel solutions or used as a wrapping fabric for other soft-touch surfaces, so the design process is entirely yours.
Acoustics should be a part of your building design, whether you choose to stay traditional or seek out artful installations. Contact us today to learn more about our Poly-Sonic line and how you can begin designing your space for both eyes and ears.
The modern office is not governed by a geometric design. Its architectural simplification breaks down the walls of cubicles to invite an open and airy work environment. This stimulates office culture and promotes personal interaction. The landscape may be pleasing but this minimalist approach to the office space comes with its issues.
It was believed that a breakdown of cubicles would lead to genuine social interaction and collaboration. However, a lack of privacy has shown the opposite with avoided face time and more digital communication. But it is not just the lack of privacy that is plummeting employee productivity. An unwanted side effect of fewer walls, higher ceilings, and minimal furnishings is a whole lot of noise.
Noise Pollution in the Office
Noise is not just an everyday nuisance we can brush off. It’s an irritation that can affect our health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), any noise above 65 decibels (dB) is considered noise pollution and anything exceeding 75 dB becomes harmful.
Unwanted noise in the workplace can come from all sources.
Noise from AC and heating units, kitchen spaces, keyboards, and fax machines are all inevitable culprits of noise. Exterior noises as well, traffic outside of the buildings and car noises, are all unaccounted for in an open space plan.
The open office lacks the fundamentals of proper space planning like involving full or partial enclosures, as mentioned before. The “all in this together” environment for employees is an easy way of meaning no matter what, you are always in direct earshot of someone’s phone conversation or your table mate clicking his pen every ten seconds.
The lack of visual privacy is also cause for problems in the workplace. Although not necessarily auditory, constant visual contact with your peers makes it even more challenging to avoid any unwanted noise from overhead conversations, meetings, etc.
Sound bounces off of hard surfaces. In open office spaces with little walls and plastic or glass furnishings, it’s easier for sound to travel. There is a much higher tendency of echo and sound reverb in this type of environment. It creates a fluctuation in noise that can make everyday activities much more challenging to focus on.
Effects of Noise Pollution in the Office
Constant exposure to noise in the open office space is not healthy for intellectual focus and productivity nor is it good for our personal health.
Excessive levels of noise can cause stress by overstimulating the nervous system and consequently raising blood pressure and increasing heart rate. This also can lead to increased irritability as employees push to work through the noise.
With the range of noises overlapping in the workplace, attentional functions begin to deteriorate. There is even evidence to support that background noise can decrease cognitive functions like learning and memory.
Noise makes multitasking impossible. It becomes dangerously easy to fall off task with constant uninterrupted distractions. It will not just stunt work productivity but affect actual work performance.
When work performance suffers so does workplace motivation. Over 65% of people consider leaving their work due to noisy situations.
While headphones may seem like a simple solution, they can make things worse. Headphones are not the direct problem but the volume at which we listen and the duration of time we use them. Simply put, when sound waves reach your ears, your eardrum vibrates and sends those vibrations to the small bones of your inner ear. This travels on to your cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber that houses thousands of tiny hairs. The louder the sound, the louder the vibration of the cochlea and its hairy helpers. One can guess that over extended periods of time, the hair cells will become less sensitive. Headphones in the office may not cause permanent damage like being at a concert or working in a factory, but there is still a risk of causing hearing problems while masking the bigger issue in the workplace.
Redesigning Office Space with Acoustical Panels
How is it possible then to address the issue of noise in the workplace without compromising the integrity of an open office design? The solution: acoustic panels.
Remember we stated before that noise travels; it reflects off surfaces and moves throughout the space creating overlaps and reflections of sounds. An acoustic panel is a sound-absorbing panel made from soft materials that reduce echo and reverberation helping to mitigate noise in a space. It limits sound travel and effectually clarifies sound, ultimately giving way to creating a more comfortable environment for an employee to work in.
Acoustic Panels- Different Solutions in Different Forms
Acoustic absorbers can come in many forms and materials.
Nonwoven felts or woven fabrics (wool, cotton, etc.)
Fiberglass panels wrapped with other fabrics
Cellulose-based materials wrapped with other fabrics
Style and Function
Controlling sound in the workplace does not have to sacrifice the style of the office layout. When determining how to achieve the best acoustic performance, consider these questions.
What is the room being used for?
What is the size/scope of the room?
What materials in the space are contributing to noise pollution? (glass, wood, plastic)
Acoustic panel materials are available in different varieties of colors, shapes, and textures making them functional pieces of art (or even real art printed on an acoustic panel!). It can become a part of the company brand for its practical use that adds a personal and customizable touch through design. It’s always best to consult an acoustic consultant/architect to utilize sound absorbers to the best of your advantage and marry that with a great interior designer.
Where and How Acoustic Panels Can be Utilized In the Modern-Day Office
Acoustic Panel Dividers/ Wall Mounts
Instead of reverting to the outdated life of cubicles, acoustic panels can be strategically placed to create quiet areas. Acoustic panels can also cover a larger surface area, like a wall, to get the biggest amount of area covered without encroaching in on the office space.
To the same effect, acoustic tiles can be used to cover an entire wall or portion of a wall in any fashion you see fit. Acoustic tiles are great for smaller spaces where the need to control noise is not as demanding as using an entire wall mount. They can be arranged in different patterns and styles, even creating subtle 3D effects on the walls. Decorative acoustic tiles can be subtle or enhance the design of your space by adding color and shape.
Hanging acoustic baffles are great for treating larger spaces with higher ceilings. Baffles are typically installed in two or more directions and at varying depths to best capture sound in a space. They are also multifunctional and can be outfitted with lighting solutions.
Acoustic clouds are suspended horizontally and come in a variety of sizes, styles, and shapes. These are best used to strategically place over areas to capture sound where it’s most needed.
Acoustic workspace dividers provide privacy for a quiet personal workspace still engaged in an open work environment. They can be mounted to desks or tables giving you infinite opportunities to customize the area as needed. And at a time like this, they are a perfect way of safely maintaining social distancing standards among employees in the office. Many desk dividers on the market are made of acrylic plastic (a clear or frosted material) that divides but only increases sound reflections. By using a felt polyester panel, you gain all the advantages of a physical divider with the extra benefit of acting as a sound absorber.
Office Privacy “Phone” Booth
A privacy “phone” booth can be assembled in any given area to give employees a designated space for focused work without any distraction from the outside. The acoustic properties reduce outside noise simultaneously keeping any conversation inside the phone booth for ultimate discretion. It’s a great opportunity for any employee to get away from the office without having to physically leave the office.
The Ultimate Benefits of Acoustic Panels
Noise is a global occupational hazard that does not have to go untreated. Acoustic panels tick off all the boxes for reducing noise in an open office without cluttering the space. The benefits of acoustic panels
It creates a comfortable office space that employees will want to work in therefore upping employee performance and motivation.
Provide privacy for personal conversation and work without compromising the open office plan.
Reducing echo will take away sound interference that will better foster interpersonal communication and work without being distracted by other day-to-day office activities.
Avoid personal health-related issues like increased stress.
Take the opportunity to not only better the work-place environment but enhance the aesthetics of the space with decorative panels or baffles.
At Bouckaert Industrial Textiles, we are the leading supplier of nonwoven acoustical insulation materials including Poly-Sonic (our own brand of 100% polyester acoustic panels). We help acoustical consultants, interior designers, office managers, furniture companies and many others solve their acoustical issues.
One of the hottest trends in office furniture and interior design is the rise of polyester (PET) acoustic panels. The use of these panels is growing significantly in markets such as construction, retrofits of existing offices, and other commercial and public spaces.
Over the past 3 years, polyester acoustic panels have seen a massive upsurge in demand. This is due, primarily, to their flexibility in color, form, and ease of use when compared to traditional fiberglass acoustic panels. Fiberglass panels can cause irritation and air contamination due to the chemicals they sometimes contain in their binders.
The industry has quickly adopted these panels whether being used as desk dividers, light fixtures, hanging sound baffles, wall-mounted art, or any number of other uses. But what exactly are polyester acoustic panels? How are they made? What should you look for in a quality product or a vendor? We answer all of these questions and more.
How are polyester acoustic panels made?
To understand the challenges that arise on the quality front, you first have to understand how polyester acoustic panels are made.
1. Define the desired outcome
The process to create a finished acoustical panel starts with determining what characteristics we want the finished panel to have. We can affect acoustical curves (NRC), stiffness, surface texture, or color by changing the fiber material or size, product density or thickness, or manufacturing processing of our finished panels. Each variable lets us dial in the ideal finished characteristics. Our standard Poly-Sonic panels are comprised of recycled polyester fiber and special lower melting point polyester fiber.
2. Manufacture the needle punch felt
Next, we start the manufacturing process. Every polyester acoustic panel starts out life as a nonwoven, needle punch felt. This felt is similar to the felt kids make craft projects out of, but much thicker and denser!
We begin by taking raw fiber and turning it into a “web”. We then build density and surface characteristics by adding batts and needling the material together. The repeated needling that the felt receives is one of the keys to creating a stiff panel while maintaining a super smooth-surfaced panel. From this process, we create a “master roll” of felt. For a more detailed description of how needle punch felt is made, check out this link.
The felt moves to the heat-setting machinery following the creation of the master roll. This could be a mold for 3d shaped panels or some form of flat pressing system. This process changes the material from a roll of flexible felt to a stiff polyester acoustic panel.
When heat hits the polyester fibers, they melt and flow like a liquid thermo-plastic. Fibers like these are specially designed to have a low melt point. As this material cools, it turns back into plastic but is now spread throughout the felt, attached to all the fiber around it, and (with the assistance of the needling) creates the stiffness of the finished acoustic panel.
The heat-setting process is one of the most difficult to perfect. This is because the material will shrink three-dimensionally while being heated. And any imperfections in needling will create very obvious surface defects.
The final manufacturing step is to cut the panels to their final dimensions or shape. Most architects and interior designers need tolerances of +/- 1/8th of an inch. Some elaborate designs require tighter than +/-1/16th of an inch. This would normally favor a die-cutting process but in many cases, the variety of shapes and rectangular dimensions needed would make this cost-prohibitive. Only with extremely precise cutting tools such as CNC machinery using oscillating blades, lasers, or waterjet cutting can near-perfect acoustical panels be cut every time.
What quality attributes should you look for when assessing polyester acoustic panels?
There are several factors to consider when determining whether a polyester acoustic panel is of top quality.
Is the first panel just like all the others and, also as important, is each individual polyester acoustic panel consistent within itself?
One of the key giveaways of an inconsistent process is that one panel does not look like the next. When dealing with large-scale projects, even minor consistency problems can stand out when looking from panel to panel or from one section of a panel to another. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the panel manufacturing process, it is impossible for panels to be exactly identical, but the closer they are, the better.
The distribution of colors in a panel is one of the first things to stand out. Many panels have a “heathered” look to them. This comes from blending two or more colors of fiber together. Do you see clumps color? Or is everything evenly spread out?
Another one of the most noticeable attributes comes when comparing the thickness of different panels. When placing panels next to each other on a wall or in a line of desk dividers, check to see if the panels are of different thicknesses.
The thickness of each acoustic panel is one of the major drivers of its acoustical absorption capability. Thicker is better!
Many applications for acoustic panels, such as desk dividers, require very stiff panels. Make sure to check if the panels stiff enough for your use. Is each panel consistently stiff? This could be from one corner to another or from one surface side to another.
Many manufacturers struggle with getting enough heat all the way through the panels to fully activate the low-melt fiber. This is especially true on thicker panels. Often, an inferior panel will have a softer center and two harder surface faces when you look at the panel from the side. When this happens, the panels tend to not hold mounting bolts or hardware as well and also tend to collapse and bend easily when held from only one side. This usually destroys the panel by creating unwanted wrinkles on the surface.
Acoustic Certifications (ASTM C423)
Polyester acoustic panels have many uses, but as the name implies, “acoustic” tends to be the key attribute for many applications. All panels should have an NRC value, and most “standard” specifications will.
Where this gets tricky is when comparing panels from different vendors that look the same but have vastly different ASTM C423 results. Logic says that the higher number is better, right? Well, not quite…
There are different variations of the ASTM C423 test. These range from “A” mount where the acoustic panel is placed directly against a cement floor (and will have a lower NRC number) to “E Mount” where the panel is suspended several inches in the air (and the NRC number will be higher). It isn’t wrong for a vendor to use “E” mount test data, but make sure you compare apples to apples when comparing!
As a secondary note for ASTM C423 testing that produces an NRC value, keep in mind that NRC is an average of performance at different frequencies. If you have specific acoustical profiles or sound frequencies that you need to target, then make sure you look at the charts to compare performance at your specific frequency.
The acoustical curve of BIT’s Poly-Sonic 45 (9mm thick) acoustical panel using ASTM 423 A-mount. Note the different absorption coefficients at different frequencies. NRC: 0.30
Flame and Smoke Certifications (ASTM E84)
The ASTM E84 certification uses a combination of a flame spread and smoke generation test. It is one of the most important certifications for applications that are considered “building materials”. Depending on your application, you may not require this certification, but most suppliers will have their acoustic panels tested to this specification.
There are several results possible all resulting from the flame spread portion of the test. The generally accepted standard is “Class A” and, if your application requires this test then be sure to look for this.
One word of caution here, not all ASTM E84 tests or testing labs are equal. Many of our customers are wary of using unknown foreign laboratory results for good reason. We have heard some horror stories about vendor-provided laboratory results looking good but when independently tested their panels fail miserably.
Due to the moral values and legal penalties involved in failing this test, most of our customers will conduct their own testing using a US certified lab. We recommend that you do the same if you do not personally know the lab that conducted the testing.
What to look for in a vendor
Now that we have reviewed the critical parts of a quality panel, it is easier to identify what to look for (and what we strive to be!) in a vendor as well. For many customers, being able to provide a consistent, high-quality panel is paramount and all-encompassing. Other normal vendor characteristics to inquire about are minimum order quantities, lead times, and, of course, price. However, there are a few other factors to consider that not every PET acoustic panel vendor can provide.
First is the ability to customize. The market is becoming flooded with 9mm thick panels that look, feel, and perform pretty similarly. But your company might require a distinct acoustical performance curve, custom color options, or different thicknesses. Finding a supplier who can work with you to provide the exact product you need isn’t always needed, but be sure to review your requirements and make sure the company you are working with can handle them.
Another often overlooked aspect of vendor capability is someone you can build a relationship with. Maybe you are in a bind and need an order shipped early. Or you are stuck with a whole truckload of panels after a customer backed out of a deal. Is your vendor willing to take them back no questions asked? Finding a company that you can work with is often worth paying a bit more when they save you headaches down the road!
Bouckaert Industrial Textiles tries to meet all of our customer’s needs from minimum order quantities, to lead time, to price, to customization and relationship. Our Poly-Sonic polyester acoustic panels are designed and manufactured entirely in the USA.
Have questions or want to learn more about us? Contact us today!