Apologies for being a bit quiet on the blog front lately but we can assure you it’s for good reason. We’ve almost finished our year-long collaborative project with Swansea University (facilitated by Innovate UK) to optimise our prototype formulations and processes for high volume manufacture. It has been quite a labour of love with some whopping R&D twists and turns a long the way. But ultimately, it led to us applying for another pot of funding from Innovate UK as part of their Transforming Construction competition to Increase productivity, performance and quality in construction. But before we reveal the outcome, we thought we’d share with you the story of how we got here…
A chance encounter can certainly go a long way. For us, such a particular encounter occurred at a KTN hosted event on robotics & automation in manufacturing earlier this year. We were fortunate enough to meet a company called CNC Robotics based in Liverpool. A quick discussion on the challenges of high volume manufacture led to further meetings and before we knew it, a fully automated manufacturing solution started to emerge…and it was all going to fit in a box. Well, a shipping container to be exact.
Every manufacturer is dealt the question: to automate or not to automate? You could mitigate the risk, not dedicate as much CAPEX and hit low to medium volumes with a manual or semi-automated process, get trading and grow organically. But for us it has always been a case of go big or go home and we knew a scalable and repeatable manufacturing process with consistency in both quality and hit rate is the only way to achieve sustainable growth – particularly when dealing with a disruptive product. This is particularly poignant in our case given that a standard UK semi-detached home requires between 1000-1200 roof tiles per roof. This of course requires more CAPEX and risk, which wasn’t an easy pill to swallow considering we’re a start up that hasn’t yet begun trading. Yet despite this, our original plans to purchase CAPEX on a semi-manual process rapidly went out the window.
The idea for containerising the pilot cell comes from the ‘factory in a box’ concept – a modular, repeatable and self-contained cell that can be deployed anywhere. It will house an end-to-end turn-key system that can then be monitored and operated through advanced cloud-based and IoT technology using sensors & big data. Wastage will be fully recorded and minimised, its overall footprint reduced and most importantly for us, 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.
After a few agonising weeks of building the case for Innovate UK, our efforts were rewarded and we secured ourselves a £136k grant towards the collaborative project with CNCR aptly entitled: MARTF (Modular Automated Roof Tile Factory. And if you think that’s an odd title, just know it was almost called FARTS (Factory Automated Roof Tile System)… 😄
We can’t thank Innovate UK enough for their enduring support throughout our entire start-up journey. Innovation at a start up level can be a minefield but just know there is always support out there to be had. You’ll never know where it might lead you – hugging a KUKA robot like Martyn no doubt.