Lightweight Adhesives

Tomorrow’s tiling adhesives are available today.

By Jason Brunt Ceramic Product Manager Mapei UK.

Why do we need light weight adhesives? The simple answer is we don’t. Why do we produce them? The simple answer is because we will need them.

Making a new tile adhesive is like reinventing the wheel. How do you improve something that we have used for years that sticks one material to another? Manufacturers are always looking for improvements to products but, depending on the complexity of the design, it can be difficult to improve something that we already know works.

As the markets for tile adhesives tightens due to global and local uncertainty some manufacturers may look to reduce the costs and prices of the adhesives, while as reported in Tile and Stone Journal (The Tile Association tests against non-conforming products, TSJ July-August 2018) there have been concerns there may be adhesives in the market that don’t meet the standards they are advertised to.

As the average tile size is increasing every year and substrates are becoming ever more difficult to bond onto, any result of underperformance in bond strength and flexibility, could mean that we will begin to see more installation failures. At Mapei we have taken a different route by improving the quality of our adhesives and enhancing the products while endeavouring to improve their environmental impact. During 2018 Mapei UK transferred its production of lightweight adhesives to the UK plant making them more eco sustainable. The raw material costs in manufacturing these adhesives will always be greater than using traditional fillers and methods and, therefore, the initial purchasing price will always seem higher. However, we need to concentrate on the benefits we do get.

Transport benefits
Lighter weight materials do not mean less volume of product. It is completely the opposite, we get more volume for less weight. The understanding of this is often confusing. As an example we will use our Ultralite S2 15kg. What does S2 mean? S2 is the measurable deformability of the adhesive. We will compare this to a traditional S2 cementitious adhesive with a traditional powder and liquid mix, this being a 20kg bag of powder and approximately 6 litres of a latex additive. We therefore have in this scenario 26kg of product and this will cover approximately 5 square metres of tile installation using a standard bed. The waste packaging involved in this is a paper bag and a plastic bottle.

If we look at the Ultralite S2 we have 15kg of material which will cover approx. 7 square metres of tile installation using a standard bed. The packaging waste here is 1 paper bag. The liquid required is circa 6 litres of water. If we look at the transportation of these materials from manufacture to site, and base this on a 1,000 square metre job, a 2-part mix would equate to 200 bags of powder and 200 bottles of liquid. This would be palletised as 5 pallets of powder and 2 pallets of liquid – 7 pallets in total.

If we look at the Ultralite S2, which will give the same performance characteristics, then we are looking at just 3 pallets for distribution. This, therefore, means we are impacting on the environment by using the standard methods, not only with the waste packaging but also the volume of trucks required.

Let’s take it further, 200,000,000 square metres of tiling installed in the UK would require 44,722 trucks with standard adhesive and latex additive while with lightweight only 23,809 trucks are required. We must also bear in mind the cost financially as it is obviously more cost effective to purchase one product rather than two, thus eliminating the need for latex. The switch would also eliminate 40,000 empty plastic bottles from the environment.

Recycling initiatives
At Mapei we recycle as much of our waste as possible. When looking at advancing our technology in adhesives one of the focus objectives is to utilise materials that have been recycled from what would otherwise be land fill waste materials. In the lightweight materials we can utilise glass and rubber as 2 examples. The use of these materials replaces the fillers normally used in the production of the standard adhesives which gives huge benefits environmentally, not only in reducing the materials we take from the earth but also in minimising the materials we would put into the earth.

RSI implications
Spend an evening with a group of tile installers and there are common themes in the conversations when we consider the installers’ health. The knees and hips are most commonly discussed as floor tile installation places a huge burden on these joints. Other joints which are affected are the wrists, elbows and shoulders. The constant troweling of the adhesive takes its toll over the years, and as previously mentioned in this article the tiles are getting larger.

If we consider a larger tile being installed on the floor using a traditional adhesive we will apply the adhesive to the substrate and to the back of the tile. With the traditional adhesives we are looking at a density of the mix of approximately 1,500 kg/mᶟ. When utilising the lightweight adhesives the mixed bulk density reduces to 1,100kg/mᶟ. This reduction means that the adhesive, when lifted from the bucket with a gauging trowel and, when spread on the substrate using a notched trowel, is applying less strain on the installer. This has to be considered as a major benefit to any installer.

Consumer feedback from the launch in 2018 of the Mapei lightweight paste Ultralite D2 is that the lower density, when compared to traditional products, is paying dividends to the installer’s health and is also increasing the speed of installation. We know that troweling the lower density lightweight adhesives is a benefit when mixed but the density pre-mix also has a positive impact on the installer’s health.

The transportation of adhesives from vehicle to site location is always a laborious task. We can carry a 20kg unit of powder but the easiest way is to hump this on to a shoulder causing stress and impact on the spine. The 20 kg will cover approximately 5 square metres so if we consider a domestic job of 35 square metres we are looking at 7 journeys. The lighter weight materials 15 kg will cover 7 square metres and if the bags have handles like the Mapei Ultralite range then to balance the load 15kgs of product can be easily carried in each hand meaning only 3 such journeys are required. This is not only a health benefit but again is time saving. The spine is also benefited with lower density materials when we look at the larger format tiles. Let us consider a 1,200 by 1,200mm tile that is to be installed on to the floor.

The weight of the tile alone could exceed 25kg if 12mm in thickness. We now add traditional adhesive spread onto the back of this tile taking the weight to in excess of 30kg. Any reduction in weight which could be 2kg per tile will benefit the installer. At Mapei one of the other benefits is the low dust levels. Some of our Ultralite adhesives have also been formulated to reduce the dust produced when mixed. This has huge benefits to the installer’s health, and reduces the risk of lung damage that can be caused by the finer dust particles contained in normal products without this additional benefit.

Potential cost savings
As previously mentioned, the initial purchasing price is greater when looking at the shelf price because you see a 20kg bag of powder at £X, and the 15kg at a higher price. However, when all things are taken into consideration the final cost has to be less. The understanding of more volume of material to less weight has always been a difficult concept to communicate but hopefully the following analogy will make it easier to comprehend.

Imagine coal represents standard adhesive and feathers represent lightweight adhesive. When spread, the feathers will cover a larger area than the coal because their density is less.

With lightweight adhesives, while the initial purchase price is higher, you are getting more material in the bag. This extra material brings down the price per square metre installed. This, combined with time savings, transport (fuel) savings and health benefits, means that lightweight tile adhesive is the greatest market for the future both here in the UK and globally.

For more information on Mapei’s range of lightweight adhesives and how they can be used in your project, contact:

T: 0121 508 6970