Automation & Robotics for Construction
Automated Floor Tile Grouting
Background and Current Practice
Grouting is the process of filling the gaps in between tiles (ceramic, marble, granite, etc.) for the final finishes of floor and wall. It is a labour-intensive and repetitive process that demands time and skill to achieve the desired finish quality.
Here are the steps involved for the current practice of grouting:
- Mixing of grout material as per the manufacturer recommendation.
- Preparation and cleaning of the area.
- Removal of dirt and unwanted substances from the gap between two tiles.
- Application of grout into the gaps between tiles: the grout is packed into the gap using a plastic card or rubber pad.
- Removal of excess grout and cleaning of tile surface.
Opportunity Areas and Key Challenges
We are interested in robotics solutions that can automate the entire grouting process for floor tiles in an integrated manner. For a start, prioritise the automation of the steps in the grouting process that have the most potential to generate productivity gain and improvements to quality. Step 4, as described above, is of top priority for automation, followed by Step 5 and Step 1.
The solution for Step 4 should fulfil the following specifications in order to be considered successful:
- It must accurately identify the tile gaps and autonomously navigate a room of up to 20m² to apply grout for at least 50% of the room.
- It must consistently apply grout for different tile arrangements. The tile sizes used in the arrangements could be as small as 150mm in width.
- It must also consistently apply grout to fill the tile gaps of 1 to 2.5mm with different depths (depending on the tile thickness).
- The grout is considered to have been applied consistently when there are no gaps or excess in the application.
- The solution must be able to achieve a recessed joint profile. For a flush joint profile, the robot should achieve as close to what is practically possible.
- It should be able to tailor to different types and composition of grout mixtures and adjust the grout application process accordingly.
- It should be able to apply grout to the corners and sides of the floor tiles that interface with the wall
The robotics solution could take innovative approaches to simultaneously conduct the different steps in the grouting process, instead of a step-by-step procedure taken by human workers. This should reduce the time taken to complete the grouting process and even reduce material wastage (pre-mixed grout is discarded if it hardens). The following solution features are desirable:
- The solution removes excess grout from the gaps and tile surfaces before the grout hardens.
- It is able to carry the different mixture components of grout (for example, cement, water and latex) and mix the grout using a just-in-time approach.
The solution must include a simple digital interface for workers to easily program the robot to perform the grouting works for different projects and monitor the work progress.
A robotics solution autonomously applies grout for a room or area of up to 20m² for floor tiles, which reduces the manpower needed to perform grouting whilst improving the quality of work. The solution would help reduce the duration taken to complete the grouting for one unit by 50%, from 2-3 man-days to 1 man-day.