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    Robot bricklayers fulfilling prophecies of 2014 Oxford Uni report

    Nathan Johnson

    In 2014, Britain’s Oxford University released a report charting the vulnerability of 702 occupations in terms of their likelihood to be replaced by various forms of computerisation in the future.

    ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ ranked the vulnerability of jobs on a scale of “0” to “1” with a value of “1” as highly vulnerable. Near the top of that list with a score of 0.82 was Brick Masons, with only five other construction-related jobs ranked more vulnerable.

    But while the predictions are yet to be proved totally accurate, a few recent inventions, one in Perth and another in the US, do hint that change is on the horizon for brickies.  

    The most recent comes from New York company, Construction Robotics and is called SAM100, short for Semi-Automated Mason. As the name suggests, SAM100 doesn’t completely replace the work of a brick mason, but it does remove a significant portion of human labour from the bricklaying process.

    SAM100 can only lay bricks, and does so at a slower rate than a human could - around 1,200 a day. A human is also still needed to mix the mud, feed SAM100 with bricks and mortar, and do all the finicky jobs like pointing and brick tying. But SAM100 does replace a significant element of human labour, and its inventor says it has the potential to reduce production and installation costs by 50 per cent, increase mason productivity by five times, and reduce human lifting by 80-plus per cent.

    Another benefit is that the machine uses traditional bricks and mortar products, meaning you’re not constrained to using specific proprietary products.

    On the other end of the spectrum, and heralding from Perth, is Fast Brick Robotics’ Hadrian X which can lay a staggering 1,000 bricks per hour and complete the brick veneer skin of a conventional residential building in just two days.

    Hadrian X combines the latest in construction robotics with a software it invented called The Architectural Designer, which manages the design, procurement of materials, and delivery of the structure.

    The Hadrian X works from a model designed in TAD and performs all the tasks of a human bricklayer, including loading, cutting, routing and placement of bricks. Details like plumbing and wiring channels can be built into the model and cut by the Hadrian X, and the system uses an adhesive rather than traditional mortar mixes which removes mess and waste on site.

    Fast Bricks Robotics says that the Hadrian X could cut six to eight weeks off construction times for a standard residential home and when working in conjunction with other offsite construction methodologies could significantly increase the speed at which we build houses.

    Grand Designs Australia host and Maddison Architects director, Peter Maddison has called the Hadrian X revolutionary, and believes it could be part of a wider change coming to the industry.

    “The construction industry is an industry of custom and convention, but it is one primed for change,” says Maddison.

    “Industrial 3D printing is at a tipping point, it’s ready to emerge from its niche status and become a viable alternative to long-established processes in an increasing number of applications.

    “Fast Brick Robotics is a company that has come a very long way one that is set to cause a revolution in the construction industry, changing the way we build with bricks.”

    That change is playing out in other ways as well.

    Sydney’s Architecture Research Material Applications (AR-MA) is also using new software and architecture manufacturing techniques to produce complex architectural designs that are fabricated and assembled to the strictest of tolerances.

    Like the Fast Brick Robotics and Construction Robotics, the AR-MA team are part of a wider faction within the industry moving away from fragmented and specialisation of labour to industrialised, machine-based construction processes.

    In 2014, a Chinese company 3D printed 10 houses in a day using recycled construction waste, tailings and industrial waste.

    More recently, a San Francisco-based 3D printing start-up announced to the world that it could build a house in less than a day.

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