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Becoming an innovative force is not an easy feat for any company, and this is especially the case within construction. Industry practices have changed very little over time, as most contractors continue to approach projects similar to way it was done in the early 20th century. 

The tides are changing, however, as modern technology begins to proliferate at construction sites around the globe. On-site trailers are becoming mini Silicon Valleys of the industry, and the sight of superintendents walking through a project with an iPad in hand is no longer a shocking experience. Software innovations are crucial for Building Information Modeling and Virtual Design and Construction, which are giving contractors the ability to see before they do, and act before it’s too late (i.e. too costly). But why should innovation stop there?

While most technological changes in construction thus far have—and will continue to—reimagine some of the intangibles that affect every project, the actual building process has become an undeniable hurdle to creating a full industry transformation. For contractors like Michigan-based Barton Malow, though, that challenge is being met head-on.

Investing in the Future

Industry revolution often begins with a shrewd investment. Over the years, Barton Malow has kept its ear to the ground to discover unexplored opportunities. That’s exactly what happened with Construction Robotics, a New York-based company dedicated to developing leading-edge robotics and automation equipment.

Through a strategic investment, Barton Malow joined Construction Robotics’ Advisory Board under a Mutual Cooperation Agreement. The companies collaborate on research, development and deployment of potentially game-changing technology every step of the way.

Rafael Astacio, director of sales and business development for Construction Robotics, believes the partnership is vital as the industry is entering a period with more questions than answers. “Currently, the construction industry is severely static. But the strategic relationship between Barton Malow and Construction Robotics matches the interest of both companies as they embrace change alongside one another,” he said. With this partnership, Barton Malow hopes to bring the prospect of robotics into reality.

Meet the Family

The technology that Construction Robotics has developed is nothing short of amazing. Their primary products, SAM and MULE, have been used in the field, including Barton Malow projects. They were designed with production, ergonomics, collaboration and data in mind, and are just the beginning of the company’s innovations.

Ask any project leader, and they’ll say that laying brick is typically one of the most tedious efforts on a jobsite. Not only does it require massive amounts of coordination, but also the sustained energy from construction workers. However, through SAM, short for Semi-automated Mason, the way the industry approaches the brick laying grind might be changed forever.

SAM, a moveable robot that is guided by a laborer, is able to lay bricks six times faster than conventional methods, and can lay up to 3,000 of them per day. By increasing masonry productivity by three to five times while also reducing lifting by 80 percent, contractors are able lower risk to injury and increase the longevity of their workforce.

The theme of productivity runs rampant at Construction Robotics. When laborers are fatigued, it increases the risk of injury and lowers their productivity. MULE aims to help both problems. The Material Unit Lift Enhancer is a lift assist device that handles and places materials weighing up to 135lbs. This lets onsite team members effortlessly move heavy objects without the worry of physical wear and tear. Moreover, by allowing one person to move objects more quickly and more efficiently, waste in both time and materials is vastly reduced. 

Requirements

To use tools like SAM and MULE, a jobsite needs to have a few specific features. First, it needs to be brick- or block-centric. Secondly, it needs long straight runs greater than 60 feet to allow for easy movement. Finally, brick size length should be less than 12-inches, an air gap with wall tie brackets less than inch is necessary and a minimum starting height of 52” needs to be ensured.

Safety

How safe are these robots? The machines comply with all OSHA requirements. SAM is equipped with motion sensors, and if it detects contact with a person it stops automatically. With MULE, safety is built in; its ease of use provides the biggest plus, as interactions with it are seamless.

Barton Malow is getting a firsthand look at its investment. At the Arauco Particleboard Plant in Garyling, MI, the MULE was used to help the crew move heavy blocks faster and easier than ever. And at project for Ford, the team simply loaded up the robot, programmed its path and watched as it perfectly placed bricks along its route.

Goal and Purpose

For Barton Malow, this robotics ambition is far more than a fad. The company believes it’s a reality that’s not far off. The investment in Construction Robotics aims at breaking an innovation barrier that has hampered the industry for too long. With this new technology at their side, Barton Malow knows it’s a competitive difference-maker.

Astacio agrees. He believes that the industry is at a crucial juncture. With a dwindling trades pipeline and an increasingly aging workforce, not only is it beneficial to invest in robotic assist technology, but it’s necessary for businesses to separate themselves from the pack. 

“Technology like this forces us to evolve how we think and do things in construction. We’re building safer, smarter while also using more creativity,” says Astacio. He continues, “I believe the change that we’ll start to see within the next five to 10 years will be bigger than the past 50 years combined. If we start embracing tech, the floodgates will open.”

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