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Automated machines, or robots, are starting to work with us on the jobsite. First they take on the dangerous jobs, where death, injury, and insurance put the capital “E” in Expensive. After the pioneering is done in those jobs, the robots will move on to the repetitive jobs next. Over time, bricklayers will become bricklayer-robot technicians, and other talented artisans will adapt in the same way.

The designer of the Mortar Machine is working on the cutting edge of the technology that could make such a future possible. For now, the Mortar Machine is barely half a bricklayer — it won’t actually lay the bricks, only the mortar. And someone will still have to lay the tracks it runs on, load it, fix it, and cuss at it when it doesn’t work. But consider how CNC technology is getting better and cheaper — and what is that but a stationary robot?

Toolmongers understand the unpredictable reality of the worksite, but it’s impossible to ignore that tools are¬†progressing in complexity, quickly. How do you feel about working alongside a robot? Is this technological development hot or not? Let us know in comments.

Mortar Machine [ABC]
Toolmonger Photo Pool [Flickr]

Photo by tanakawho, posted on Flickr.


13 Responses to Hot or Not? Half A Bricklayer

  1. Fredex says:

    Look at what is done with pick and place robots. Those are the guys that stick all the components into PC boards and do other kinds of assembly work. A bricklayer robot would be a scaled up version.

  2. Erin says:

    Maybe hot. One thing construction sites all seem to have in common is dirt – whereas picking robots all seem to work in temperature and humidity-controlled environments. I think you’d have some trouble with dirt , humidity, etc. affecting the more delicate machinery required to simulate the finer manipulation. Once you address that, you have to consider that the first few generations of robotics on any production/manufacturing/assembly job do require more involvment and supervision by the technician. I think it’s a few years off yet, but I’ll be happy to see it. Even though masonry might seem less risky than a lot of construction gigs, my brother was killed from a fall at a masonry job. I’m all for anything that offloads the risk to machines rather than people.

  3. Jim K. says:

    I for one welcome our new robot overlords!

  4. mike t says:

    Bah, we”ll all live in monolithic domes by then and bricks will be obsolete!!!


  5. mike t says:

    In all seriousness automate sheetrocking.

  6. PutnamEco says:

    I think the “printer” style robotic house builders show the most promise.


  7. Ash says:

    A robot *brick* laying machine.. Not.
    Bricks are made small and light to be easily manipulated by human hands, use a messy slow-drying mortar-based assembly system, and you have to use thousands of them on even a small build.
    A robot that assembles huge interlocking prefab wall segments is where it’s at, because although they’re fast to go up, they’re a real PITA for a team of humans to crane and crowbar into position. Many hours and many fingers would be saved.

  8. Steve French says:

    It’s a step in the right direction in any case, assuming bricks hang on for another 20 years, which is probably a safe assumption.

    Aren’t the Japanese doing a lot along these lines?

  9. J.R. Bluett says:

    Not sure about Japan, but I didn’t find nearly as much information about this kind of automation as I would be interested to read. I will certainly post on it again as I find more.

  10. Cole Goldstein says:

    Personally I don’t like the idea of a robotic bricklayer. I think it takes jobs away that should be in the hands of hard working people and it destroys the architectual value of a good brick job. If you have a robot do the job everything is too precise. You need to have those little inconsistencies to make the job beautiful. A prime example is paintings. The masters like Raphael were the masters and you can see all of their brush strokes. By saying the robot is just as good is saying that a digital printout is just as good as the original Raphael’s School of Athens painting. It just does not compute. That’s just my opinion…

  11. Michael Pendleton says:

    Speaking as someone who has been trying to get a cabinetmaking shop off the ground, after being laid-off by a company switching from hand assembly to CNC-based production, I can tell you that the robots are hot on our tails! Their progress may be slow, but it never stops…

    My feeling is that as an individual, there is no way for me to stand in front of this slow moving landslide. I can either go for high-end, hand built custom work, or I can act as a middleman and installer of the products of the machines. It’s not that customers *prefer* a robot, but they vote with their wallets, time after time, and if a house can cost thousands less because it used a robot bricklayer, then those robots are going to be everywhere and bricklayers will be looking down the same barrel that I am!

    This is what I repeat to myself: “The last person who fought the machines and won was John Henry, and that was over a hundred years ago and he died trying. I am not John Henry!”

  12. Dan Wayne says:

    I’ve only been working in the business for a little over ten years, but I see the writing on the wall. Though most of the work that I now do is skilled enough that the machines probably won’t be a real threat until I retire, it’s impossible for me to ignore.

    I’ve always been able to find work because I’m very good at what I do, and can sell myself effectively. But as Michael P. notes above, customers will vote with their wallets. And these machines are starting to show that they can do the routine, monotonous parts of jobs with speed and precision. Many big jobs have lots of routine, monotonous parts.

    I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t worry. I’ll always be better than a machine, but who am I kidding, really? The number of jobs where I’ll be better than a machine are now going to steadily be shrinking.

    What I’ve decided to do in the next year or so is move away from this business. I’m in real good physical shape and have a great deal of endurance, so I’m going to move into the adult film industry. I may not last more than six or eight years, but it should be enough to finance what’s needed to launch another career.

  13. R.W. says:

    Masons are artisans first and foremost (well the good ones), having a robot do this work for us is a slap in the face of humanity and tradition, this in my opinion would only undervalue the work. Especially when it comes to stone work, every mason has their own style and that is the beauty of the work/job, having a robot do this almost makes me feel sick (being a bricklayer), I am sure this will come to fruition when I am retired (with the way the economy is going it won’t be for a while) but masonry is a legacy of human ability and has been around for more than a millennium and has been doing just fine. I have passion towards my work and to tell you the truth if I had to compete with a robot I would smash it with my hammer lol..

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