An Innovative Cleaning and Painting System for High-Rise Buildings to Enhance Workplace Safety

March 17, 20178:04 am1680 views

An innovative robotic system that can clean high-rise building exteriors using water jets or give new coats of paint is being co-developed by ELID Technology International, a local pioneer in automated controls and biometric contactless systems and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore).

Called OutoBot, this patent-pending automation is locally built and will improve productivity while enhancing workplace safety. It needs only half the manpower to run and can work for longer hours as compared to manual methods.

For the washing or painting of a building façade, a team of five is usually required – two on the ground and roof top, with three cleaners or painters on the gondola. Instead, Outobot requires only two workers – one operator on the ground and one as a safety officer.

The Outobot has a robotic arm equipped with a camera and a spray nozzle that can shoot high-pressure water jets to clean surfaces or spray paint. No painters or cleaners are required to be on the system’s specially built gondola.

To tackle Singapore’s manpower challenges, NTU has a strong research focus on robotics, which is set to fill an important gap in the productivity and automation needs of the industry. We can now do more with less manpower.

ELID’s first innovation in robotic automation was envisaged in response to the Housing and Development Board (HDB) call for proposals to automate the painting of external HDB building façades, so as to enhance worker safety and increase productivity.

Managing Director of ELID Technology International, Mr Dennis Lim, first came up with an idea of the robotic system, said it would tackle productivity issues for painting buildings in line with Singapore’s Smart Nation vision.

“With Singapore’s rapidly aging workforce, we need to find ways to enable our employees to continue contributing despite their advanced years,” Mr Lim explained. “Using our new robot, we have shown that a labour-intensive job can transformed into one that can be easily done by an older worker, and at the same time eliminating the risk of employees having to work at heights.”

Professor Chen I-Ming, Director of the NTU Robotic Research Centre who jointly led the development of OutoBot, said the project is an example of how the university leverages its engineering expertise to improve productivity, while enhancing worker safety.

See: Technology Should Help Companies Worry Less about Workplace Safety and Health of Employees

“Our aim is to make the cleaning and painting of high-rise buildings easier, safer and more cost-effective,” explained Prof Chen, who teaches at NTU’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. “By using spray painting over conventional roller painting, our robot is also more precise and efficient, minimising waste and saving paint.”

How does it work?

OutoBot comprises of a robotic arm with six-degrees of freedom mounted on a specially designed automated gondola and weighs under 500 kilogrammes.

Powered by a conventional power outlet, the robot can scan the exterior surface of a building using a camera and automatically plot the areas to spray paint or clean while avoiding the windows. It also gives a more consistent coat of paint as compared to the manual methods.

Apart from saving up to 50 percent manpower requirements, it can speed up both the cleaning and painting process by about 30 percent since it does not need a break. The automated system also minimises wastage, saving up to 20 percent of paint. To speed up the process at the same building, multiple systems can be deployed.

The made-in-Singapore OutoBot has been put through its paces at an industrial building located at Ubi, in the eastern part of Singapore. It is now ready and will be deployed for an upcoming project over the next few months.

It will also be tested on selected public housing blocks, in consultation with HDB.  Through the trials, HDB will work with ELID to refine or customise the robot’s design to better suit its building designs and facades. ELID, together with NTU’s innovation and enterprise arm NTUitive, are now in talks with other companies as well as government agencies to deploy the robot at other suitable commercial and residential properties.

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Also read: Workplace Safety: How Can You Prevent Common Injuries at Work?

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