Robotic fabricator could change how buildings are constructed

How often have you seen marketing messages that promise “to change forever the way you…” only to discover the message is the kind that gives marketing a bad name. The more I see that promise, the more inclined I am to ignore it. But I recently ran across an article about a robotic fabricator developed by Markus Giftthaler at the ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, which could, the headline said, "change the way" buildings are constructed.

Giftthaler is a serious scientist, not a marketer, so I read the piece.

Back in the 1970s, robots revolutionized the auto industry doing a wide range of jobs more reliably and quickly than humans. Before long people were touting robotics for use in construction.

But a construction site is a complex place posing unique problems, which is why fabrication of complex elements is sometimes done off-site.

What if those odd shapes and sizes could be fabricated right in the building where they will be used? Could a robot do that?

What Giftthaler and his team have done is develop a new class of robot, which they call In Situ Fabricator1.

The machine was designed from the bottom up to be practical. It can build stuff using a range of tools and do it with a precision of less than five millimetres. It is able to operate semi-autonomously in a complex, changing environment. It can reach the height of a standard wall. It can fit through ordinary doorways. It's dustproof and waterproof. It runs off standard electricity and has battery backup. It's also connected to the Internet so an architect can make real-time changes to plans if necessary.

The machine has a set of cameras to sense its environment and on-board processors for navigating and planning tasks. It has a flexible, powerful robotic arm so it can handle construction tools, even in awkward spots.

The researchers have used their invention to build two structures at an experimental construction site in Switzerland called NEST.

The first was a double-leaf undulating brick wall 6.5 metres long and two metres high, and made of 1,600 bricks. Positioning such a wall correctly on a construction site can be tricky. But the robot made a map of the site with information gathered from its sensors, then compared it with the architect's plans. Then, with the desired location and orientation pinpointed, it built the wall. Nice.

The second job it tackled was welding wires together to form a complex, curved steel mesh that can be filled with concrete.

Welding creates tensions that can change the shape of the structure in unpredictable ways. But the robot was able to assess the structure and allow for any shape changes as it welded the next set of wires together. Impressive. But the machine is not perfect. For example, it weighs almost 1.5 tonnes, making it too heavy to enter many standard buildings.

It also needs to be able to handle heavier objects. This first machine is capable of manipulating things that weigh up to about 40 kilograms. Somewhere around 60 kilos would be better. But its electric motors are unable to handle heavier objects with the same level of precision. As well, the motors are unreliable in the conditions often found on construction sites.

In Situ Fabricator1 is useful for what researchers call "proof of concept." Now the team is working on In Situ Fabricator2.

It has already designed and built a hydraulic actuator capable of controlling a next-generation robot arm that can handle heavier objects more reliably. They're still working on the weight problem, hoping to reduce it by two-thirds to 500 kilos.

That is likely to take the rest of this year. And who knows, it might really be the machine that changes the way buildings are constructed.


Read the original article here:

May 16, 2017

Digital transformation in the real estate industry

While digital transformation has disrupted almost every type of business, the real estate industry has been traditionally slow to move with the times – until now, according to participants at a recent 2nd Asia Pacific Leadership Symposium in Hong Kong organised by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Read More
May 15, 2017

Trust-based teams build better

Award-winning author and futurist Rex Miller says the way most construction projects are carried out now drives good people to do bad things.
Read More
May 15, 2017

VPD Steps Up Enforcement in Support of Roadside Worker Safety

The B.C. Cone Zone Campaign coincides with the increase in roadside work throughout the province in the warmer months of the year. In the City of Vancouver, major road construction and repair projects will be as much as 25 percent greater than the same period in 2016.
Read More
May 05, 2017

Manufacturing is shifting the future of construction

The future of design and construction is about finding efficiencies and building a faster, cheaper and better quality product. Design for manufacture and assembly (DFMA) incorporates all those elements under one roof, stated several industry experts during a recent presentation on the future of modular construction.
Read More
May 02, 2017

Lean construction: More than common sense

Lean is far from the novel concept it was back in the ‘50s when Toyota first popularized it. Yet, here we are in 2017, and a new lean event, whitepaper, seminar, book, association, or video seems to pop up everyday.
Read More
eNews - CKNW.jpg
April 30, 2017

CKNW Future of Work Series: The future of Construction

According to the B.C. Construction Association, by the year 2025, there will be 15,000 unfilled construction jobs throughout B.C. As an older generation of workers start to head into retirement, younger workers will be needed to fill the roles and keep the industry thriving.
Read More
April 27, 2017

Trump Imposes Tariffs up to 24% on Canadian Softwood Lumber

Softwood lumber, often used for structural framing and decking, among other uses, may be seeing a price increase in the US in the near future. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) has announced that they will be imposing tariffs of up to 24% on all softwood lumber imported from Canada.
Read More
April 27, 2017

Robotic fabricator could change how buildings are constructed

Back in the 1970s, robots revolutionized the auto industry doing a wide range of jobs more reliably and quickly than humans. Before long people were touting robotics for use in construction. But a construction site is a complex place posing unique problems, which is why fabrication of complex elements is sometimes done off-site.
Read More
April 26, 2017

Drones provide new perspective on job sites

UAV or drone adoption is one of the fastest growing uses of technology in construction, and inspecting icy rooftops is only one of many emerging applications leading to safer jobsites, better dissemination of information, and in some cases, precise measurement.
Read More
April 26, 2017

Future disruption and the race to collective intelligence

If ever there were an industry ripe for disruption, it is construction. Mega-trends like globalization, asset management, and new technology are beginning to turn this long unchanged industry inside out. So, how do industry players stay on the winning side of future disruptions?
Read More
April 20, 2017

6 Tips for Stressed Out Superintendents

More than any other construction pro, the superintendent is the closest to a jack-of-all-trades. Besides needing to recall vast amounts of technical information at a minute’s notice, you also have to stay one minute ahead of a rapidly changing environment.
Read More
April 20, 2017

Drywall Support Program commences on May 1

The Government of Canada is providing relief to Western and Northern Canadian drywall contractors and builders who faced unexpected losses due to the duties imposed on imported drywall from the United States.
Read More
April 19, 2017

CCA project management guide aims to be all-inclusive

A task force on project management services delivery is in the final stages of developing a guide that aims to shed some light into how stakeholders involved in a project can interact with project management (PM) firms and what roles and responsibilities those involved have.
Read More
April 16, 2017

E-gloves aim to protect workers from vibrations

You might find it doubtful that a new sort of work glove, no matter how "smart," is capable of protecting construction workers from dangerous vibration levels. But the magic word nowadays is "sensors." They are in your phone, in your car, in your home humidifier, in all sorts of devices.
Read More