Discarded slate from abandoned Welsh slate quarries is being turned into revolutionary composite roof tiles, thanks to an entrepreneurial start-up company, Innovate UK and manufacturing experts from the Coventry-based Manufacturing Technology Centre.
Carapace Slate Ltd has developed a ground-breaking snap-fit roof tile with the appearance of natural quarried slate, using the waste from North Wales’s industrial past. More than 700 million tons of waste slate is available, making it a sustainable product.
Using a unique manufacturing process, the crushed slate waste is mixed with a resin to form a composite tile which can replicate natural slate colourings to fit regional requirements. The tiles will be digitally manufactured in a “factory-in-box”, which is an autonomous, rapidly deployable digital manufacturing facility that can be remotely controlled from anywhere in the UK.
The resulting manufacturing module is an end-to-end production cell fully contained within a shipping container that can be operated and monitored through advanced cloud-based technology using sensors. Waste is fully recorded and minimised, and tile characteristics can be altered remotely.
Thanks to the support of Innovate UK, the company is collaborating with the MTC as part of Innovate UK’s Increase Productivity, Performance and Quality in UK Construction competition. Using the MTC’s extensive factory- in- a- box expertise, the result will be Carapace’s first production cell with the aim of launching its first products later this year.
Supported by Swansea University, the Development Bank of Wales and Innovate UK, Cardiff-based Carapace Slate has developed a composite low-cost, lightweight tile which snap-fits together, making installation quick and easy. It takes the time and cost out of roof-tiling while being sustainable. Now the product is attracting interest from major UK construction merchants as well as a roof tile maker in the United States. To meet this level of interest, the company has teamed up with the experts at the MTC’s Business Launch Centre, to help manufacture the product in high volume and bring Carapace to market.
Carapace managing director Martyn Lucas says the product confronts several issues facing the construction industry including skills shortages, length of build time, cost and the challenges of green construction.
“The Carapace tile interlocks on all sides with no need for nails or clips. It is a fraction of the cost of high quality slate but still looks fantastic in situ. It is made from waste material and can be broken down and reformed. Add to that it can be manufactured on-site, removing transport costs and pollution, so it’s a step in the right direction in terms of its environmental impact,”
“Working with Innovate UK and the Manufacturing Technology Centre has given us the best possible chance of building a robust and future-proof manufacturing solution, and we are really excited to be working with some of the most talented engineers in the country. Innovate UK has given us exceptional support and we couldn’t have found better partners than the MTC,”
Dean Baker, director of the MTC’s Business Launch Centre, said the MTC team was very much enjoying working on the Carapace project which also fits with the national Construction Innovation Hub of which the MC is a key member.
“Carapace has brought innovative thinking and technology to the construction sector, solving several problems at the same time. They are a great team and we are delighted to be helping them bring their product to market,”
Carapace was founded by Martyn Lucas and Amy Sheldrake. Self funded, with the help of Welsh Government innovation vouchers, it began life in a garage producing experimental prototypes, but after closing its first fundraise in 2018, now works from new premises including workshops and laboratories in Penarth near Cardiff.
The MTC’s Business Launch Centre provides manufacturing expertise and incubation cells for start-ups to develop, prototype and manufacture their innovative products. They have access to the MTC’s world-class advanced manufacturing and research facilities, as well as the MTC’s team of engineering and manufacturing experts.
Dean Baker said,
“We are able to provide a de-risked environment for start-ups and entrepreneurs with the support of our product development team from concept to manufacture. Through the MTC’s membership we can give companies the opportunity to draw on the wider manufacturing community to create a successful and sustainable business. Our knowledgeable team offers an end-to-end service to reduce the stress of bringing a product to market.”
The MTC was founded by the University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, the University of Nottingham and TWI Ltd. The MTC’s industrial members include some of the UK’s major global manufacturers.
The MTC aims to provide a competitive environment to bridge the gap between university-based research and the development of innovative manufacturing solutions, in line with the Government’s manufacturing strategy. The MTC is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, supported by Innovate UK.