Robots could make tiling floors 'four times as efficient'

Tobias Bonwetsch, a team member that worked on the prototype, looks on as he gives demonstrates the capabilities of the robotic tiling machine. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Tobias Bonwetsch, a team member that worked on the prototype, looks on as he gives demonstrates the capabilities of the robotic tiling machine. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Tiling floors is "one of the most labour-intensive processes in construction", but a new robot being developed here could make this four times as productive, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed in a blog post on Tuesday.

Researchers at the Singapore-ETH Centre Future Cities Laboratory (FCL) and ROB Technologies have come up with the prototype for a robot that lays floor tiles.

While it does this menial task, its human counterparts can "focus on higher-value added work such as refilling and grouting the tiles, and cutting odd-size tiles to fit the corner," said Mr Khaw.

The project is still at the research stage but if the robot becomes commercially available, it should be able to lay tiles two to three times faster than humans.

Furthermore, one human worker can supervise two robots. So while it now takes two days for two workers to tile a three-room Housing Board flat, with the help of four robots, those two workers could do four flats in the same time. "The arithmetics are impressive," said Mr Khaw.

He noted that each year, more than 40 million tiles are laid in new construction projects in Singapore, meaning there is "great potential to automate the tiling process and make it more labour-efficient."

Robots can also deliver high precision and consistent quality. With robots doing the "backbreaking tiling work" and reducing manual labour by as much as 75 per cent, the risk of worksite accidents could also fall, he added.

"Robotics is not new, but we hardly see them in our construction sites," said Mr Khaw. "The Building and Construction Authority will be happy to provide some funding support to help change the status quo."

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