With the move to Industry 4.0, robots are starting to appear within the construction industry landscape. And with the labor shortages experienced in all countries, it is no surprise that innovators are turning to robotics to help plug the gap in skilled trades. Two of the most talked about construction robots are the Hadrian X bricklaying robot, developed by FBR in Australia, and the SAM100 created by Construction Robotics in the US. This is how these two robots are disrupting one of the most traditional areas of construction.
The Fastest Bricklaying Robot
The Hadrian X bricklaying robot made headlines in 2016 when it laid 1,000 bricks in an hour. To understand how this compares, human bricklayers can typically lay 300-500 bricks per day, with the record being 914 bricks laid in an hour. Since then, FBR has been fine-tuning both the robot and the materials it works with, using specially designed blocks that interlock and are 12 times larger than a traditional brick. The mortar used with these blocks has also been specially designed for use with the robot and will dry in 45 minutes, compared to 1-2 days for traditional mortar. The Hadrian X can lay 200 of these blocks in an hour, and FBR is aiming to increase this further.
The robot uses a 30-meter boom which delivers the bricks to the layhead, and it can also cut, grind, mill, and route the bricks to fit. Different brick sizes can be accommodated, from the standard-sized brick to the large blocks developed by FBR. The bricks need to be manually loaded onto the robot, after which it can run autonomously. And thanks to its telescopic arm, it can also build curved walls and lay bricks around corners.
At the moment, the proprietary control system takes CAD and 3D model information and uses Cartesian coordinates and parametric design to determine where each brick should be placed. With the rise of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and 3D modeling, it is not difficult to imagine a time when bricklaying robots such as these can access and use the BIM model to determine how and where to lay the bricks. Although the Hadrian X is not currently commercially available, when it is released FBR says that a typical home can be built in just two days using their robot.
Removing the Manual Labor From Bricklaying
Construction Robotics’ approach has been slightly different to that of FBR. Rather than automating the entire process, the SAM100 (Semi-Automated Mason) works alongside a person to help remove some of the manual labor from the process. Using the SAM100, up to 3,000 bricks per day can be laid, making the construction six times faster than a bricklayer working on their own. This robot picks up the bricks, puts the mortar on them, and places the bricks on the wall. The mason working alongside the robot then smooths out the excess mortar. This greatly accelerates the laying process while also improving the health and safety of workers by reducing manual handling activities.
Exciting Developments for Construction and BIM
Given that the need for skilled bricklayers and for more homes are both rapidly increasing globally, automating the bricklaying process for faster, mass construction is an obvious answer. And as the move to construction robots continues to develop, it is likely that BIM will play an ever-increasing and integral role within the construction process as the means of providing construction information to these new technologies. One thing is for certain – the digital, autonomous era truly has arrived within the construction industry.