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Polystyrene was accidentally discovered in 1839 by Eduard Simon, an apothecary in Berlin. From storax, the resin of Liquidambar orientalis, he distilled an oily substance, a monomer which he named styrol. Several days later Simon found that the styrol had thickened, presumably from oxidation, into a jelly he dubbed styrol oxide (“Styroloxyd”). By 1845 English chemist John Blyth and German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann showed that the same transformation of styrol took place in the absence of oxygen. They called their substance metastyrol. Analysis later showed that it was chemically identical to Styroloxyd. In 1866 Marcelin Berthelot correctly identified the formation of metastyrol from styrol as a polymerization process. About 80 years went by before it was realized that heating of styrol starts a chain reaction which produces macromolecules, following the thesis of German organic chemist Hermann Staudinger (1881-1965). This eventually led to the substance receiving its present name, polystyrene. The I.G. Farben company began manufacturing polystyrene in Ludwigshafen, Germany, about 1931, hoping it would be a suitable replacement for die cast zinc in many applications. Success was achieved when they developed a reactor vessel that extruded polystyrene through a heated tube and cutter, producing polystyrene in pellet form.

Pure solid polystyrene is a colorless, hard plastic with limited flexibility. It can be cast into molds with fine detail. Polystyrene can be transparent or can be made to take on various colors. It is economical and is used for producing plastic model assembly kits, license plate frames, plastic cutlery, CD “jewel” cases, and many other objects where a fairly rigid, economical plastic is desired.

Polystyrene`s most common use, however, is as expanded polystyrene (EPS). Expanded polystyrene is produced from a mixture of about 90-95% polystyrene and 5-10% gaseous blowing agent, most commonly pentane or carbon dioxide. The solid plastic is expanded into a foam through the use of heat, usually steam. Extruded polystyrene (XPS), which is different from expanded polystyrene (EPS), is commonly known by the trade name Styrofoam. The voids filled with trapped air give it low thermal conductivity. This makes it ideal as a construction material and it is therefore sometimes used in structural insulated panel building systems. It is also used as insulation in building structures, as molded packing material for cushioning fragile equipment inside boxes, as packing “peanuts”, as non-weight-bearing architectural structures (such as pillars), and also in crafts and model building, particularly architectural models. Foamed between two sheets of paper, it makes a more-uniform substitute for corrugated cardboard, tradenamed Fome-Cor. A more unexpected use for the material is as a lightweight fill for embankments in the civil engineering industry.

Expanded polystyrene used to contain CFCs, but other, more environmentally-safe blowing agents are now used. Because it is an aromatic hydrocarbon, it burns with an orange-yellow flame, giving off soot, as opposed to non-aromatic hydrocarbon polymers such as polyethylene, which burn with a light yellow flame (often with a blue tinge) and no soot.

Expanded polystyrene is very easily cut with a hot-wire foam cutter, which is easily made by a heated taut length of wire, usually nichrome because of nichrome`s resistance to oxidation at high temperatures and its suitable electrical conductivity. The hot wire foam cutter works by heating the wire to the point where it can vaporize foam immediately adjacent to it. The foam gets vaporized before actually touching the heated wire, which yields exceptionally smooth cuts.

Polystyrene, shaped and cut with hot wire foam cutters, is used in architecture models, actual signage, amusement parks, movie sets, airplane construction, and much more. Such cutters may cost just a few dollars (for a completely manual cutter) to tens of thousands of dollars for large CNC machines that can be used in high-volume industrial production.

Polystyrene can also be cut with a traditional cutter. In order to do this without ruining the sides of the blade one must first dip the blade in water and cut with the blade at an angle of about 30?. The procedure has to be repeated multiple times for best results.

Polystyrene can also be cut on 3 and 5-axis routers, enabling large-scale prototyping and model-making. Special polystyrene cutters are available that look more like large cylindrical rasps.

Working on the water can be challenging, but expanded polystyrene (EPS) can stand up to cool country lakes or the heartless high seas. Lightweight and impervious to leaking, EPS can be shaped and molded to fit the demand of boaters, surfers and marine construction companies.

Working on the water can be challenging, but expanded polystyrene (EPS) can stand up to cool country lakes or the heartless high seas. Lightweight and impervious to leaking, EPS can be shaped and molded to fit the demand of boaters, surfers and marine construction companies.

The marine environment can be tough: extreme temperatures, constant exposure to salt and water, and a demand for structures which can take a beating. If you`re building a floating dock, expanded polystyrene is an excellent choice. It`s 100% waterproof and if it`s punctured or damaged, your dock will continue to function. EPS is also environmentally friendly and its lightweight nature makes transport and assembly simple.

Since many areas now require EPS floatation devices to be encapsulated in plastic, Royal Foam also provides a full line of encapsulated float drums that install quickly and are extremely durable.

Royal Foam supplies many surfboard manufacturers with the latest in EPS technology. An EPS core guarantees excellent buoyancy, perfect balance, and can be shaped to accommodate the most demanding of wave riders. Available in different thicknesses, EPS blanks won`t absorb resin or water.

Whether you`re building a house, an office complex or a completely new roof, you need the right tools to get the job done. With its superior strength, insulation, and waterproofing qualities, Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is tough enough for any construction purpose-from the foundation to the rooftop.

As an insulator, EPS is one of the best materials available and its use in concrete forms is unparalleled. The secret of EPS is the millions of air pockets which are formed when it`s created. These pockets impede the flow of heat, making EPS an excellent insulator-keeping things cool in the summer and warm in the winter. At Royal Foam, we provide high-grade EPS wall insulation in a variety of thickness and sizes.

Used as roofing insulation, EPS can be fashioned in lightweight yet durable panels that keep the elements out while keeping cool or warm air inside. Half the price of ISO board, EPS roofing makes for ideal barriers and more. For flooring, EPS insulation under a concrete slab floor can cut down on heating bills by 10-20%. Plus, insulating with EPS around the edge of the slab lets the house heat quicker and more efficiently.

Water, heat, and cool air have a tough time leaking through EPS – and so does sound. The structural qualities of EPS deaden sound more efficiently than fiberglass and stud wall configurations. Builders looking to create quality home theater rooms or in-home recording studios will find EPS a great building material for construction.

Custom laminated sheets are available with foil, kraft paper, or LDPE sheeting laminated on one side or both.


Working with stud walls can be time and cost consuming when you need to install arches, curved walls, custom angles and cathedral ceilings. Custom cut any shape your client wants and since EPS is so lightweight, you don`t have to worry about structural load considerations. Plus, EPS has a naturally smooth finish, which bonds quickly with paint, mortar, and acrylic-cement render.

Light, inexpensive, and easy to transport, concrete forms are an excellent use of EPS. Once the form is finished, it`s easily assembled on-site. Unlike traditional concrete forms, EPS forms remain on site, adding strength, insulation, and sound deadening capabilities. More and more construction firms are using EPS concrete forms in areas that annually face hurricanes and tornadoes.

In civil engineering applications, the use of EPS means more reliable construction schedules and cost savings. EPS is unaffected by severe weather, is environmentally safe and its service life is comparable to that of other conventional construction materials. EPS Geofoam is used in geotechnical applications such as slope stabilization, lightweight fill, retaining wall and abutment backfill. It is also used as subgrade insulation under highways and airport runways.

Geofoam blocks are delivered to the site pre-cut to the required sizes and due to their light weight can be put into place by hand or with lightweight equipment.

Three major benefits EPS Geofoam are high compressive strength, low moisture absorption and low interface friction (comparable to sand). When you`re ready to investigate Geofoam for your next project, give Royal Foam Products a call!


Expanded polystyrene starts in a semi-viscous state, known as polystyrene, which is derived from a raw material called styrene. Polystyrene is usually in the shape of beads or pellets. It is a colorless, hard plastic that is used to make a variety of items-from plastic models to CD jewel cases to plastic knives.

To make expanded polystyrene, the polystyrene beads are expanded into foam, which is accomplished through the use of heat, usually steam. The two most common blowing agents used are pentane and carbon dioxide – neither contains CFCs. This process – polymerization – fills the polystyrene with millions of air pockets, which helps it to expand and also gives it a low thermal conductivity. During expansion, the product can be molded into a variety of shapes and sizes. The final product is 90% air, but amazingly, EPS can have a compressed strength up to 40 psi.

Once the EPS has been manufactured, it is cut with highly heated lengths of wire which are made out of a product called nichrome – a non-metallic alloy of nickel and chrome. This metal resists oxidation at high temperatures and it will conduct electricity surprisingly well. The wire is heated to extreme temperatures and “cuts” the EPS by vaporizing the foam as it passes through it. This process gives EPS a silky smooth surface and allows manufacturers to cut and shape it into any design imaginable!


Problem: Highway capacity is insufficient to meet growing demand

Traffic congestion on highways in the United States continues to be an area of concern to the traveling public. Every year, congestion continues to grow as vehicle travel increases and the Nation`s bridges and roads deteriorate. To help alleviate this growing congestion, capacity on the Nation`s highways and major roads must be expanded. In many circumstances, however, roadway embankment widening or new alignments may require construction over soft or loose soils that are incapable of supporting increased loads. Embankment construction projects must identify innovative materials and construction techniques to accelerate project schedules by reducing vertical stress on the underlying soil.

Solution: Get in, get out, and stay out with expanded polystyrene (EPS) geofoam

What is EPS geofoam? EPS geofoam is a lightweight, rigid foam plastic that has been used around the world as a fill for more than 30 years. EPS geofoam is approximately 100 times lighter than most soil and at least 20 to 30 times lighter than other lightweight fill alternatives. This extreme difference in unit weight compared to other materials, makes EPS geofoam an attractive fill material. Because it is a soil alternative, EPS geofoam embankments can be covered to look like normal sloped embankments or finished to look like a wall.

What are the advantages of EPS geofoam for highway construction?

EPS geofoam can be used as an embankment fill to reduce loads on underlying soils, or to build highways quickly without staged construction. EPS geofoam has been used to repair slope failures, reduce lateral load behind retaining structures, accelerate construction on fill for approach embankments, and minimize differential settlement at bridge abutments.

Because EPS geofoam weighs only 16 to 32 kilograms per cubic meter (1 to 2 pounds per cubic foot), large earthmoving equipment is not required for construction. After the material is delivered to the site, blocks easily can be trimmed to size and placed by hand. In areas where rightof- way is limited, EPS geofoam can be constructed vertically and faced, unlike most other lightweight fill alternatives. It also can be constructed in adverse weather conditions.

Putting It in Perspective

One in every five highway projects is considered “traffic sensitive.”

Two out of every five urban interstate miles are considered congested.

Traffic delays have more than tripled in the past 20 years.

By 2020, the Nation`s population is expected to grow by 16 percent, and vehicle travel is expected to increase by 42 percent.


Accelerates foundation construction, which reduces project schedules.

Saves money.

Requires limited labor for construction.

Exerts little to no lateral load on retaining structures.

Can be constructed easily in limited right-of-way areas and in adverse weather conditions.

Successful Applications: States` results demonstrate EPS geofoam advantages

Many States have used EPS geofoam in large and small highway projects.

By using EPS geofoam as a lightweight fill, engineers at the Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT) have realized significant time and cost savings for a number of small and moderate sized roadway embankment projects over deep, soft organic soil deposits prevalent in the State.

After years of searching for a permanent solution to a failing slope problem on State Route 23A, New York State DOT turned to EPS geofoam. By replacing upper sections of the slide area, the State significantly reduced the driving forces that were causing the slide and successfully rehabilitated the roadway section.

Two large and high-profile jobs–the Big Dig in Massachusetts and I-15 in Utah–turned to EPS geofoam to construct large embankment sections. EPS geofoam helped the projects maintain extremely tight construction schedules that would not have allowed enough time for conventional embankment construction. Both projects illustrated the ease and speed with which EPS geofoam can be constructed for highway embankments.

Deployment Statement

This technology is a lightweight, rigid foam plastic that is approximately 100 times lighter than most soil, and at least 20 to 30 times lighter than other lightweight fill alternatives. This extreme difference in unit weight, compared to other materials, makes EPS geofoam an attractive fill material to significantly accelerate construction schedules.

Deployment Goal

By October 2008, EPS geofoam will be a routinely used lightweight fill alternative for State DOTs on projects where the construction schedule is of concern.

Deployment Status

EPS geofoam has been used on roadway projects in more than 20 States. The FHWA Resource Center has developed a half-day seminar on EPS geofoam and has presented the seminar in approximately 10 States. A guideline specification for State DOTs is being revised and updated to reflect trends in the industry and fluctuations in the cost of materials. In addition, an innovations and advancements report is being prepared to highlight state-of-the-art developments in the use of EPS geofoam as a lightweight fill material.

What Is a Sandwich Panel

Sandwich panels are a remarkable product because they can act as strong as a solid material, but weigh significantly less. The trend for “stronger-lighter” is becoming increasingly important in the transportation and aerospace industries, and sandwich panels are filling this need.

The common composite sandwich structure is made up of two major elements, the skin and the core. Sandwich panel skins are the outer layers and are constructed out of a variety of materials. Wood, aluminum, and plastics are commonly used. More recently though, advanced composite fibers and resins are being used to create skin material.

The core materials provide many of the panels` desirable properties and are often composed of wood, foam, and various types of structural honeycomb. Each core has various advantages; for example, balsa wood is a lightweight core, has high strength, but can rot or mold with exposure to moisture. Foam is usually not as stiff as balsa, but is impervious to moisture and has insulating properties. Honeycomb material is strong and stiff, but is often more expensive and can be tricky to fabricate a quality bond between the skins and core.

Overall, the core gives structure to the sandwich, and the skins protect the core. Sandwich panels imitate a solid structure with the fraction of the weight. With the price of oil rising, transportation costs are constantly increasing. There is a direct correlation between the weight of a transportation system and the amount of fuel used. This is resulting in sandwich panels growing in popularity as they help reduce weight, save fuel, and curb emissions.

Sandwich panels are the future of transportation and will be instrumental in saving energy for many years to come.

How a Composite Sandwich Panel Works

This description of how a sandwich panel works, is written for someone with little engineering experience. Many assumptions are made to simplify this explanation.

First, picture a simple I-beam where flanges are bonded to a web to create a structural member. When stressed, the two flanges are in tension and compression. This creates the majority of strength. However, an I-beam is most effective in bending in the plane defined by the Y-Z direction.

A sandwich panel is much like an I-beam, but with the flanges and web extended in all directions. The skins of a sandwich panel correlate with the flanges of the I-Beam, and the sandwich core is similar to the I-beam web. However, because it is a panel, there is bending strength in all planes, not only the Y-Z plane (like the I-beam above) but also the X-Z plane, and any plane between.

When a sandwich panel is bent, one skin experiences tension, and the other skin experiences compression.

This is where the majority of strength is created in a sandwich structure. The core functions to hold the skins together, so the panel doesn`t buckle, snap, deform, or break. The core keeps the skins fixed and relative to each other.

The main stress the core experiences is “shear stress”, as the two skins attempt to slide past each other. The stiffness of the core is determined by the core material “shear properties”. The stiffness of the panel is mainly determined by the core material properties and the thickness of the core.

An easy way to demonstrate the core is to picture a paperback book. When the book is bent, notice how the pages easily slide past each other. If the pages were then glued together, the book would instantly become very stiff, because when bent, the pages could no longer slide. Instead, the pages on the bottom half are in compression, and must squeeze together. While the pages on the top half are in tension, and must stretch apart.

Flexible cores that bend easily are known to have a “low shear modulus” while very stiff cores have a “high shear modulus”. If the glued paper back book is bent enough, eventually the side in tension will crack and fail. The top layer of paper will tear when the “tensile strength” of the paper is exceeded by the bending force.

A solution to this would be to bond another material to the surface, creating a skin with a higher tensile/compressive strength. This skin would work in conjunction with the core. By doing this, a composite sandwich panel is constructed.

Types of insulated concrete forms:

ICF are basically forms for poured concrete walls, that stay in place as a permanent part of the wall assembly.

The forms, made of foam insulation, are either pre-formed interlocking blocks or separate panels connected with plastic ties. The left-in-place forms not only provide a continuous insulation and sound barrier, but also a backing for drywall on the inside, and stucco, lap siding, or brick on the outside.

Although all ICFs are identical in principle, the various brands differ widely in the details of their shapes, cavities and component parts.

Block systems have the smallest individual units, ranging from 8″ x 1`4″ (height X length) to 1`4″ x 4`. A typical ICF block is 10″ in overall width, with a 6″ cavity for the concrete. The units are factory-molded with special interlocking edges that allow them to fit together much like plastic children`s blocks.

Panel systems have the largest units, ranging from roughly 1` x 8` to 4` x 12`.. Their foam edges are flat, and interconnection requires attachment of a separate connector or “tie.” Panels are assembled into units before setting in place – either on-site or by the local distributor prior todelivery.

Plank systems are similar to panel systems, but generally use smaller faces of foam, ranging in height from 8″ to 12″and in width from 4` to 8` . The major difference between planks and panels is assembly.. The foam planks are outfitted with ties as part of the setting sequence, rather than being pre-assembled into units.

Within these broad categories of ICFs, individual brands vary in their cavity design. “Flat wall” systems yield a continuous thickness of concrete, like a conventional poured wall. “Waffle grid wall” systems have a waffle pattern where the concrete is thicker at some points than others. “Screen grid” systems have equally spaced horizontal and vertical columns of concrete which are completely encapsulated in foam. Whatever the differences among ICF brands, all major ICF systems are engineer-designed, code-accepted, and field-proven.

Based on research performed by Building Works, Inc, houses built with ICF exterior walls require an estimated 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool than comparable wood-frame houses. A typical 2000 square foot home in the center of the U.S. will save approximately $200 in heating costs each year and $65 in air conditioning each year. The bigger the house the bigger the savings. In colder areas of the U.S. and Canada, heating savings will be more and cooling savings less. In hotter areas, heating savings will be less and cooling savings more. The energy efficient performance comes in large part from the polystyrene foam on the interior and exterior of ICF walls, which range from R-17 to R-26, compared to wood frame`s R-9 to R-15 walls. Also, ICF walls are tighter, reducing infiltration (air leakage) by 50% over wood-frame homes.

Of all construction materials, concrete is one of the most resistant to heat and fire. Such fire resistance gives houses built with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) certain safety advantages. Those advantages give builders and buyers yet another reason to consider using ICFs for their next project.

How well do ICF walls hold up in a fire?

Experience shows that concrete structures are more likely to remain standing through fire than are structures of other materials. Unlike wood, concrete does not burn. Unlike steel, it does not soften and bend. Concrete does not break down until it is exposed to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit-far more than is present in the typical house fire.

Comfort and Quiet with Concrete Homes

Concrete walls built with insulating concrete forms effectively buffer a home`s interior from the outdoors. The thick ICF sandwich of a massive material (concrete) with a light one (foam) sharply cuts fluctuations in temperature, air infiltration, and noise. They keep the inside of a house more comfortable and quiet than ordinary wood frame walls.

Are there different types of ICFs?

There are three different types of configurations: 1). flat wall, 2). waffle-grid and 3). screen-grid. Flat wall systems yield a continuous thickness of concrete, like a conventional poured wall. Grid wall systems have a waffle pattern where the concrete is thicker at some points than others. Screen grid systems have widely spaced horizontal and vertical columns of concrete, which are completely encapsulated in foam. Whatever the differences among ICF brands, all major ICF systems are engineer-designed, code-accepted, and field-proven.

How do ICF walls fare with termites and other insects and even rodents?

EPS provides no food value for termites or rodents. Whether wood frame construction or ICFs, local building codes do require methods for protecting foam below-grade in high termite areas, which are specifically outlined in the International Residential Code. The same prevention measures used for wood frame construction can also be used for ICFs. The advantage with ICFs is that the termites can`t affect the structural integrity of the building since it is made of concrete.

Concrete Homes: Built-In Safety

Debris driven by high winds presents the greatest hazard to homeowners and their homes during tornadoes and hurricanes. Recent laboratory testing at the Wind Engineering Research Center, Texas Tech University, compared the impact resistance of residential concrete wall construction to conventionally framed walls. The frame walls failed to stop the penetration of airborne hazards. The concrete walls successfully demonstrated the strength and mass to resist the impact of wind driven debris.

Various wall specimens were subjected to the impact of a 2 x 4 wood stud traveling at up to 100 miles per hour. This is equivalent to the weight and speed of debris generated during a tornado with 250 miles per hour winds. This testing covers the maximum wind speed generated in 99 per cent of the tornadoes occurring in the United States. Wind speeds are less than 150 miles per hour in 90 per cent of tornadoes.

Ten wall specimens were constructed, each representative of the type of construction now used to build frame homes and concrete homes in the U.S. Tables 1 & 2 describe each wall assembly tested.

The Wind Engineering Research Center`s compressed air cannon was used to propel the wood stud debris “missile” at the test walls. The stud was propelled along its axis with the leading end hitting the specimen. Electronic timing devices measured the speed of the debris as it traveled from the cannon to the test walls located 16`-6″ away.