MARTF

Sustainable slate roofing tiles made using a modular 'factory in a box' production process that can be taken on-site.

Last updated: 18th August 2020

Date uploaded:

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Innovation Lead: Liam Winder
Project number: 104788
UKRI funding: £134,739

Website:
carapaceslate.com


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Summary

The roofing tile industry was crying out for innovation and husband and wife team, Martyn Lucas and Amy Sheldrake, had the answer in the form of Carapace Slate. Working with MTC, they have developed a single cell 'factory in a box' production line for bio-composite slate tiles that can be installed onto any site to create an instant, in-house supply chain. The tiles themselves are highly sustainable as they are made using 80% waste slate. The design means the slates self-align and interlock without nails or screws identical to natural slate, reducing the need for declining specialist roofing skills. Plus it has a faster build time reducing time needed to be spent at height, and reducing all the associated delays and costs currently associated with roofing. It is a much more productive and sustainable solution with the potential to support UK supply chain and scale globally.

Innovation type: Manufacturing, Offsite, Skills
Organisation type: Innovative SME

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Project pioneers

Martyn Lucas and Amy Sheldrake own Carapace Slate, a start-up with big ambition. They produce bio-composite roof tiles that self-align and interlock without nails or screws, and look identical to natural slate. They began development in their bedroom and are now a small but growing team of six (if you include Ramzi the dog!). They hope their innovative tile will help tackle some of the key issues facing the construction industry, namely addressing the skills shortage, improving productivity and helping meet sector-wide sustainability targets.

The problem

The roofing industry is facing some critical challenges that will impact wider UK construction. Alarmingly, during 2015, roofing activities accounted for a quarter of all construction-related fatalities within the UK. It also has an ageing workforce. 22% of construction workers in the UK are aged over 50 and 15% are over 60. And with recruitment figures low, there is a growing skills shortage in the industry. Added to that, the laborious traditional methods used in tiling a roof make inefficient use of the skills we do have, driving productivity lower. Finally, there is enormous waste of traditional slate in the UK, with over 700 million tonnes sitting unused in Welsh mines alone.

Vision

Carapace Slate offers a viable alternative to traditional tiling methods and allows the roofing tile industry to be more sustainable, productive and labour efficient. Using leftover slate powder in the bio-composite material reduces waste and minimises the impact on the environment. Its rapid installation also dramatically increases productivity, making the best use of skills and workforce available. Maintenance costs also come down across the life of a building whenever slate requires replacement. And it is available at a fraction of the cost of high-quality slate, and represents a competitive choice against all other slate alternatives, bringing build costs down and productivity up.

Key Insight

The team believed Carapace Slate would revolutionise the roofing tile industry and answer the challenges it faced. But as a small start-up, the team lacked the ability and finances to rapidly manufacture a solution. The Transforming Construction Challenge fund gave Carapace Slate the fund and know-how it needed to fully automate the design and production of its slate design.

First step

The process to produce Carapace Slate before entering the Transforming Construction Challenge was semi-manual. But the collaboration with the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) has helped them think big, and resulted in the production of a robotic assembly line that can fit into a shipping container - essentially a 'factory in a box'. From this pilot came a repeatable and self-contained cell that can be deployed anywhere - known as a Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF). Suddenly the whole picture emerged of an end-to-end turn-key system that can be monitored and operated through advanced cloud-based and IoT technology using sensors & big data.

Barrier

The biggest barrier for Carapace Slate is the reliance on traditional methods of roof tiling. SMEs have a 'business as usual' mantra and are unwilling to consider alternative modern methods to tiling. For larger construction companies, the desired UK slate has much higher costs than overseas slate so they rely heavily on imported materials for their builds, creating a gap in the supply chain. Welsh slate, the most desirable roof covering in the UK, retails at £100/sq.m while Carapace Slate will retail at £37/sq.m. With its cost, time and efficiency savings, the heads of larger construction companies are starting to be turned.

Process innovation

Carapace Slate is a bio-composite roofing tile solution that self-aligns and interlocks without nails or screws identical to natural slate. This clever design reduces the skill required from the workforce. It also has a 90% quicker build speed, resulting in lower labour and overall projects costs. But it's the concept of 'factory in a box' that is at the centre of this project. The development of the Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) - a robotic assembly line that can fit into a shipping container - means that the cell can be deployed anywhere and support streamline production processes, create a more efficient supply chain, increase overall productivity and reduce carbon footprint.

Digital Innovation

The Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) uses a fully automated HMI system that can be operated and monitored from any location with an internet connection. It allows clients to increase connectivity between digital and automated systems and remotely monitor the manufacturing process parameters. Carapace and the MTC are also looking into co-developing a MARTF digital twin and a VR showcase to allow people the chance to 'walk around' the MARTF factory.

Whole life innovation

Carapace Slate was essentially a cottage industry, with no economies of scale and rapid production, meaning the product would have to compete on price points with its closest competitor. Taking the concept to a 'factory in a box' has changed the focus from single product, to being part of the supply chain for major builders. This allows more builds, and UK construction as a whole, to benefit from the improved productivity, affordability, quality and sustainability metrics of the innovative tiling system.

Collaborators

Carapace lost their initial lead partner at the beginning of their project. With no robotics specialist now and not wishing to lose momentum on their innovation, Carapace, with help from Transforming Construction, partnered the MTC (Manufacturing Technology Centre) a part of the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH). The project was able to continue with their development of their fully automated roof tile system with specialist input on the manufacturing and robotics technology needed.

  • Carapace Slates Lts
  • Construction Innovation Hub
  • MTC

Lead support

Through the help of Transforming Construction (delivered by UKRI), Carapace Slates was able to secure a new specialist technology partner in the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). Other help from UKRI has led to exposure to large construction firms, with further pilots expected, to fill the gap in their supply chains. Flexibility and project extensions from UKRI has also allowed the project to continue through three setbacks: a car accident involving the founders; flooding of their factory; and issues with part supplies.

Long Term Vision

Carapace Slate uses modern methods of construction in a material that largely has seen no innovation in 50 years. The 'factory in a box' concept allows the MARTF project to be deployed to the site meaning the builder's supply-chain for roof tiles essentially becomes 'in-house'. This is a dramatic shift from the stockpiling mindset seen in most construction projects. The 'snap-fit' nature of the product allows for up-skilling of workers from other areas of the business, and improves health and safety of their workers and reduces the reliance on an ever dwindling resource of tilers. Ultimately, these tiles will lead to more sustainable, productive and affordable builds, and has great potential for UK and overseas investment.

Human Stories

Carapace Slate was founded by a husband and wife team, Martyn and Amy. Founded in their own home, it has grown organically and they have made a huge impact on those they have met. The pair have continued through lots of adversity, from car crashes to flooding. Yet, despite this, the team have remained focused on increasing the health and safety of roofers, up-skilling other workers in the industry, improving construction productivity, making better use of waste materials and reducing the carbon footprint of the industry.

Powerful Processes

Thanks to a meeting at an Innovate UK event, Carapace Slate started a conversation that would reset their goals and lead to a fully-automated manufacturing process. The development of the Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) - a robotic assembly line that can fit into a shipping container - now means that the cell can be deployed anywhere and support streamline production processes, create a more efficient supply chain, increase overall productivity and reduce carbon footprint. Without economies of scale, this product would have remained a cottage industry.

Fascinating Facts

Roofing activities account for a quarter of all construction-related fatalities within the UK (2015) and so the health and safety if its ageing workforce is a key concern, along with the shortage of new skill labour entering the industry. Thanks to its ability to self-aligns and fully interlock on all sides without nails or clips, Carapace Slate has an installation time of just 1 min/sq.m, reducing the build speed by 90%. This means roofers have to spend a lot less working at height and lower labour and overall projects costs come down. 80% of each slate consists of wasted, surfeit material from North Wales, meaning the tile is not only responsible for lower carbon emissions, but can retail at a more competitive price - £37/sq.m, a third of the cost of the highly sought-after Welsh slate.

Benefits

Cost
Carapace Slate will retail at £37/sq.m, a third of the cost of the highly sought-after Welsh slate, making it a more affordable material for builds. Locally sourced and produced materials ensures a future UK supply chain, and keep the costs to supply, fit and maintain the tiles low. It's simple fitting techniques require a less specialist workforce and with a 90% quicker build speed, it can reduce labour and overall projects costs.

Emissions
Carapace Slate is made of 92% natural material. It is manufactured using >80% local waste slate aggregate, combined with a 20% resin. It is recyclable and lightweight with a lower carbon footprint. And unlike conventional tile manufacturing, the Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) uses low-power manufacturing process. It does not require high pressures, high temperatures or material extraction. With optimised footprint and environmental conditions controlled within the envelope, the MARTF system will occupy a fraction of the space and energy normally required.

Health
During 2015, roofing activities constituted 25% of all construction-related fatalities within the UK. Reducing the time workers spend working at height on-site should hopefully reduce this alarming number. Additionally, the Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) has its own health and safety benefits compared to traditional production methods. Being self-contained, it only operates if sealed and can only be entered by qualified operatives. Furthermore, airborne silica and chemical fumes resulting from manufacture would be contained and filtered, further offsetting the risk to the environment and workforce.

Productivity
Carapace Slate is designed to de-skill the roof installation process while providing a 90% step-change in productivity compared to closest state-of-the-art methods. The simpler fitting design will extend the resources of skilled roofers, and expand the competency base of general builders. Having an on-site Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) also speeds up the supply chain timings. These efficiencies mean that work can be completed quicker, but with reduced labour and material costs.

Safety
During 2015, roofing activities constituted 25% of all construction-related fatalities within the UK. Reducing the time workers spend working at height on-site should hopefully reduce this alarming number. Additionally, the Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) has its own health and safety benefits compared to traditional production methods. Being self-contained, it only operates if sealed and can only be entered by qualified operatives. Furthermore, airborne silica and chemical fumes resulting from manufacture would be contained and filtered, further offsetting the risk to the environment and workforce.

Time
The design of the Carapace Slate tile, and having the Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF) on site dramatically reduces both the manufacture and installation times by up to 90% compared to traditional manufacture and fitting.

Trade Gap
An FMB report (2018) suggests an 8% increase in material costs are severely damaging construction SMEs, while larger contractors stockpile materials in anticipation of a shortage or relying more heavily on imported materials for their builds, creating a gap in the supply chain. A 22% reduction in construction output in 2008 led to supply outstripping demand, provoking a dramatic reduction in output which has yet to exceed its pre-recession levels despite the need for growth. Carapace Slate uses locally sourced and produced materials to support a future UK supply chain, and keep the costs to supply, fit and maintain the tiles low.

Whole-life Value
Carapace Slate support a more productive and sustainable construction industry. With tiles made from local waste slate, and an on-site Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory (MARTF), the carbon impact is dramatically reduced. The wastage data captured through the MARTF can be fully recorded and minimised. The design also removes an over-reliance on a skilled but declining workforce and allows other site workers to expand their skill repertoire. Most importantly, the entire cell will be responsive to an ever-demanding market that is currently experiencing nationwide roof material shortages and an alarming skill shortage within the industry.

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