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Bricks are one of the oldest building materials, dating back to 7000 BC for the sun-dried types and 3500 BC for the first kiln-fired blocks. The traditional bricklaying process involves spreading mortar, positioning a brick, and smoothing out excess mortar with a trowel, and unfortunately, this process hasn’t undergone much advancement to date.
Moreover, low productivity is one of the main challenges in the construction industry, and labor productivity, in particular, has been steadily decreasing now for decades.
Finding qualified workers, especially bricklayers and masons, has become quite difficult these days. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, nearly two-thirds of bricklaying contractors struggle to find skillful workers.
The Evolution of Bricklaying Robots
In 2014, British Pathé rediscovered Motor Mason from its newsreel archive and uploaded the footage. Motor Mason is a mechanical bricklayer developed as early as the mid-1960s. It claimed to lay bricks 5-10 times faster than the conventional method and was considered by the public as the solution to housing shortages.
Motor Mason was mounted on a rail parallel to a wall along which it would first drop mortar and quickly insert individual brick blocks. After a few years, Motor Mason suddenly vanished from the construction industry, leaving a mystery behind its disappearance.
In 2015, Construction Robotics introduced the first modern bricklaying robot, known as SAM100 (Semi-Automated Mason), at the World of Concrete event. SAM100 increases productivity by three to five times but was not physically adopted due to social concerns such as workforce safety and quality of work.
Within a few years of its release, an Australian company named Fastbrick Robotics released its automated bricklaying machine called Hadrian X. This robot is technologically advanced with several new characteristics.
Nathan Podkaminer and Scott Peters founded Construction Robotics in 2007 to speed up the construction process using robotics and automation. After several years of experimentation and failure, they developed a robot called SAM.
SAM100 was the first automated bricklaying robot available for commercial use for on-site masonry construction. It works in collaboration with trained masons. One mason is required to maneuver it, load it with bricks and mortar, while another mason is needed to conceal wall ties, remove excess mortar, and lay bricks in corners or other inaccessible areas.
SAM100 has the following components:
- A giant robotic arm with multiple joints
- A laser eye to detect depths and distances required to place each brick block
- A pair of poles on the left and right of the work area
- Computer-aided manufacturing generated design for mapping the job
- A control panel
SAM100 is embedded with multiple sensors to measure and track velocity, incline angles, orientation, outside and enclosure temperature, humidity, run hours, GPS, safety, and many more. It can also measure the slump and quality of mortar.
Hadrian X manages automatic loading, cutting, routing, and placement of bricks; it uses CAD to complete end-to-end bricklaying. It is built from steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber composites. Hadrian X is controlled by a network of computers, vision cameras, servo motors, and a laser tracker that monitors its laying position.
Hadrian X utilizes an industrial adhesive instead of traditional mortar, which increases the strength of the structure by 4-5 times. This will also increase the thermal and acoustic efficiency of the building by up to 70%. The use of adhesive decreases the build time as the setting time is significantly less when compared with the cement mortar.
The working procedure of Hadrian X is as follows:
- 3D model of the building is generated using bespoke software
- Data is fed into Hadrian X
- Machine prints the structure course-by-course like a 3D printer
- This machine also includes all cutting and routing of the bricks for electrical and plumbing services, so the finished structure is ready for fixing within days
- Openings for doors and windows are also provided
Advantages of Robotic Bricklayer
- A robotic bricklayer can lay up to 3000 bricks per day, reducing the overall project duration.
- A robotic bricklayer is relentless; it doesn't need any breaks.
- A robotic bricklayer keeps operating as long as it has enough fuel, mortar, and brick, dramatically increasing productivity and efficiency.
- It reduces labor costs by up to 50%.
- A robotic bricklayer reduces the amount of physical labor, enabling them to work safer with less fatigue and a lower risk of injury.
- The overall quality of wall alignment can be improved using a robotic bricklayer.
- A robotic bricklayer is exceptionally good at lining bricks up vertically.
- A robotic bricklayer can help reduce labor shortage problems.
Disavantages of Robotic Bricklayer
- Robotic machines are costly.
- Proper training is required to operate a machine effectively.
- On-site installation and alignment of the machine is a time-consuming process.
- The robotic machine requires fuel for its operation that affects the environment.
Technology has come a long way, from Motor Mason to other different automated bricklaying robots. Nowadays, bricklaying machines are incorporated with both CAD and data tracking technologies to make buildings more productive, safe, and sustainable than before. We can expect masonry and construction automation to undergo more transformations as these technologies continue to develop and are more widely used.