We’ve been incredibly quiet on social media over the last year – and not just because of the impacts of Covid 19 to our personal and professional lives.
Shortly before the pandemic struck, we came across a fundamental barrier involving the scale up of our production solution. The appetite and demand for our product, Carapace Slate, had grown at a pace we had never expected, with prospective orders from the likes of everyone from Joe Bloggs down the road, to housing developers, nationwide distributors and the largest roof tile manufacturers in Europe. Needless to say, we knew we had to come up with a manufacturing solution that would meet this demand, and quickly.
To put it into a more simpler perspective, an average house in the UK requires c.1200 roof tiles. So our challenge was to go from manual prototype low volume production, straight to advanced high volume manufacture. And there’s no in-between stage.
As a micro SME, creating a high-volume infrastructure from seed is impracticable if not arguably impossible. We’ve engaged with industry leaders to explore potential collaborations, which have resulted in requested access to our commercially sensitive technologies in order to progress any further engagement. If explored at this early stage, we would be in a vulnerable position with only an NDA to protect knowledge and assets, making such a growth strategy untenable.
Through a chance encounter, we were introduced to a prototype end-to-end Factory in a Box (FIAB) system within a shipping container pioneered by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). We then began to explore the possibilities of a revolutionary commercial model where rapid and sustained growth could be achieved by distributing manufacturing capabilities across multiple companies and sectors, with minimal shared capital, risk and resources. Exponential growth could be achieved by rapidly replicating the blueprint production cell ready to be deployed anywhere capable of housing its footprint.
After being awarded a grant from Innovate UK, we, in collaboration with the MTC, got to work building our first prototype semi-automated pilot demonstrator cell, capable of repeatable low volume & scalable Carapace production. The combination of industry 4 aligned processes consist of a multifunctional KUKA robot, a completely bespoke automated heavily filled resin injection delivery system, an industry 4 turnkey mixing/dosing machine and a central PLC system connecting each manufacturing component, controlled using a bespoke HMI. The result is a compact manufacturing solution that can be deployed anywhere in the UK and controlled and monitored remotely. But most importantly, through future-proofing the technology, it has no limitations with regards to scalability.
We’re now embarking on the next part of our manufacturing journey – and if all goes well, we’ll not only be launching a game changing roof tile product but a completely new British manufacturing solution and business model that other SME’s can adopt and commercialise.