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A NCFI spray foam roof is applied with a robotic sprayer.

Robo Rehab

A spray foam roofing system application is efficiently expedited with the assistance of a robotic tool
By Juan Sagarbarria

It can be nice to have a robot do the work for you – particularly if said machine can be just as efficient, or more so, than a human when completing a task. The spray foam industry does not shy away from this. In fact, many spray foam contractors across the land have turned their attention to the addition and implementation of robotic sprayers to assist them on roofing jobs. And why shouldn’t they? If there’s equipment available that possesses the technology to apply foam in a uniform fashion while being automated to meet certain specifications – then why not take advantage of it? Surely, it requires great initial investment, but if the contractor’s customers are satisfied with the quality of work and the machine itself can apply foam in harsh conditions, expediting the job’s progress, the expense can be justified.

Stan Tryon, founder and president of BTU Energy Savers, Inc (BTU), performs the bulk of his spray foam applications with a robotic sprayer. BTU utilizes the SprayBot, a machine designed by SprayWorks Equipment Group specifically for SPF roofing and coating applications. The Spraybot can be described as a roving machine with automation capabilities that has a spray gun mounted to it. A crewmember simply has to steer while the Spraybot sprays at the precise depth to which it is programmed. According to Tryon, he is one of the few spray foam contractors in the Nebraska area that has achieved formidable spray foam roofing installations using the Spraybot.  Take his latest, ongoing project – a 200,000 sq. ft. roof owned by Nebraska-based fire truck manufacturer Smeal Fire Apparatus. The roof had withstood severe hail damage over the years and needed to be repaired and replaced. Smeal contracted BTU to not only install an SPF roofing system, but to remove the existing roofing membrane from the corrugated sheet metal substrate and seal the drains that had been battered over the years. These different project stages were to be completed in strict time intervals, which could sometimes span months on end.

The significant downtime that was attached to this project became a major challenge that further sustained the use of the Spraybot: The robotic sprayer provides the ability to spray foam during high winds, which are common occurrences at the location. According to Tryon, the crew has averaged naught but 15 days a month working on the project due to heavy rains, but they have made those days count. Without the sprayer, downtime could have easily been doubled.

“With the Spraybot, all we have to do is steer while the machine does all the work,” Tryon explains. “The sprayer also comes with a wind screen to mitigate overspray, so that whenever we are applying foam we are doing so without wasting time and inflicting overspray damage. With the Spraybot, we can easily cover 10,000 to 30,000 sq. ft. a day. On a good day, we apply 10,000 to 15,000 sq. ft. without a hitch. If we had three straight months to work through without these strenuous conditions, we could have wrapped up the project easily.”

Per the project specifications, the roof surface was sectioned off and completed in increments of 70,000 to 75,000 square feet. To tackle the installation in all its stages, the BTU crew brought two rigs on site that, aside from the Spraybot, divided spray equipment, including three scarifying machines, a Gusmer Reactor H-40 proportioner (for the SPF application), a Graco GH 733 Big Rig gas-powered spray pump (for the coating application), 300 feet of hose, and a Graco GX-7 spray gun that was mounted to the Spraybot. They used foam and coating materials comprising NCFI Polyurethanes’ EnduraTech Spray Foam Roofing System. Additionally, the four BTU crewmembers wore PPE consisting of Tyvek suits, 3M fresh air respirators, and gloves.

“I trust their [NCFI’s] products; they are one of the oldest companies in the U.S. making polyurethane foam; they are top of the line,” says Tryon. “Their people are always – and I mean always – there when and if I need them for advice, directions, or support.”

First, the BTU crew powerwashed the entire roof substrate to clear it of all debris so that they could obtain a clear visual of where the affected areas were. According to Tryon, the hail had impacted certain areas significantly, to the point where a higher foam depth application would later be required to get these particular spots back to grade.

“It was a judgment call,” Tryon notes. “While most of the roof only required a pre-determined depth of foam, we realized some areas might need a bit more thickness. We needed to build those areas back up so that the installation is completely flush.”

Following the pressure wash, the BTU crew scarified one inch of the previous foam system in each section of the roof. To provide adhesion for the foam, the crew installed a 1.5-mil pass of EnduraTech AP 70-016, a water-based acrylic primer by NCFI. Simultaneously, the crew secured to the substrate 15 newly installed PVC drains using a urethane caulking sealant. After that, the Spraybot took the stage.

Tryon and his team have used the robotic sprayer for the majority of each section, barring detail work and foam installation around the edges of the roof, which was done manually. Furthermore, the crew ensured to provide fall safety via perimeter flagging along the roof edges.

“The Spraybot allows us to completely control the spray pattern, which leads to a uniform thickness,” Tryon elaborates. “Whatever thickness you set the machine to spray is precisely what is put down. This generates better yield on the foam.”

While being maneuvered by the BTU crew, the Spraybot applied between 1.5 to three inches of EnduraTech 10-011, a 3 lb. closed-cell spray polyurethane foam made by NCFI. The foam on the roof substrate is providing the building with an average R- value of 11 per 1.5 inches of foam.

The BTU crew then topped off the SPF with two coats of NCFI’s EnduraTech 70-025, a single-component, elastomeric coating, which was installed at two gallons per 100 square feet. The two layers protecting the SPF totaled 40 mils. Tryon noted that the gray base coating was laid down thicker, up to about 15 mils, so that it could effectively protect the foam on a given section if the crew had to suddenly leave the site due to weather conditions.

Even though the project is taking longer than usual, Tryon is confident that the end results will surpass Smeal’s expectations.

“The SPF roof is going to provide stability to the building; they will essentially have a waterproof roof that will not falter,” Tryon states. “The NCFI EnduraTech roofing system provides better value, higher R-value, density, and highest yield than any other SPF roofing system.”

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Spraybot Overview

Accuracy – Delivers even, consistent application of materials, virtually eliminating the common errors associated with human applicators.

Powerful Design – The Spraybot is made of durable metals with grooved solid tires for better traction. The heavy-duty chain-driven spray assembly is built for durability.

Production – High yield of material and reduction of man-hours provides contractors with a more competitive edge.

Speed – The Spraybot’s speed can be varied to change the amount of material that is delivered to the surface.

Flexibility – The Spraybot’s sprayer head is adjustable for different spray heights and can be adapted to fit most hand-held spray guns. The pull-pin design makes it easy to disassemble it into four components for transport and quick job-site set ups.

Affordability –  Contractors report that they are able to save a substantial amount of money on their first projects, which enable them to recoup their investment for this equipment purchase within the first few jobs.

Safety – Using the Spraybot eliminates the risk of putting many workers in harm’s way. Fewer people are needed to operate the Spraybot; therefore, crew monitoring is easier.

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