There always will be bricklayers and buggy drivers, of course, but not so many.
For at least 7,000 years, people have been piling up bricks to create structures. It is a time-honored construction method. The method is likely to be honored for many years yet to come, but the “people” element may go missing.
Computer-aided-design bricklaying technology has been on the horizon for a couple of years and is about to burst on the scene in the form of a robot machine called Hadrian.
Developed in Australia over the last decade, the technology is coming to market as Fastbrick Robotics.
The heart of it is a CAD system joined to a 3D computer application. Almost as impressive is the machinery it empowers. Bricks are automatically loaded, cut, routed and placed using a truck-mounted boom more than 90 feet long. Mortar or some kind of glue is injected at placement.
So many things might go wrong. A 90-foot reach? Ever tried placing a brick accurately just at arm's length? But the manufacturer says the long-distance brick-delivery boom makes automatic corrections at the mind-boggling rate of 1,000 a second to put each brick within .5 mm of its intended location. That's even better than your average bricklayer, I suspect, given the human propensity to err.
The Hadrian system reminds me of Tiger Stone, the paver-laying machine that came out of the Netherlands a half-dozen years ago. It is a much-less sophisticated contraption that lets workers feed pavers into it in a desired pattern. As it slowly moves forward, the machine compresses and lays the pavers on a bed of sand in a continuous sheet like a roll of thick linoleum.
Neither of these machines will entirely supplant human workers, but stewards of bricklayer locals surely are losing sleep. They have begun to see a future where manual bricklaying is confined to boutique jobs, remote projects, and nostalgia exhibitions. There always will be bricklayers and buggy drivers, of course, but not so many.
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