F.A. Wilhelm is the first construction Manager to own a Semi-Automated Mason
Indianapolis is now home to SAM – one of the newest automation technology drivers for the construction industry. F.A. Wilhelm is the first construction manager in the world to own SAM, otherwise known as a semi-automated mason. Currently hard at work on the Pacers Training Facility project in Downtown Indy, SAM averages more than 2,000 bricks laid per day – greatly increasing efficiency on each project.
Construction Robotics (CR) in New York is the founder and creator of SAM100 and introduced the robot to its first jobsite in 2014. After visiting CR’s New York headquarters, Wilhelm Masonry Operations Manager, Mike Berrisford instantly envisioned its potential. A short time later, SAM is hard at work at Wilhelm.
“SAM is a good addition to the Wilhelm team,” said Berrisford. “We have the right work in the pipeline to maximize its productivity.”
The average mason lays 350-400 modular bricks in a work day; SAM is averaging more than 2,000 bricks per day making the jobsite two and a half times more efficient than using manual labor alone. SAM’s main brick conveyor holds around 22 modular bricks and can place up to a 12-pound utility brick. Two smaller conveyors simultaneously hold cut brick and/or smaller end pieces to be placed intermittently.
According to Berrisford, Wilhelm’s team broke the record for the amount of bricks the robot could lay. The original record held was 2,770 bricks placed in an 11-hour work day. Friday, November 18th, SAM laid 3,000 bricks in a nine and one-half hour work day on the job for Wilhelm.
Two SAM Certified Masons, Doug Padrick and Nick Smith, operate the automated mason, initially with the assistance of a CR field technician and engineer. “My 23 years of experience as a bricklayer helped me ask the right questions to the [Construction Robotics] technician while he was here,” Smith said. “We bounced ideas off of each other to help the process run smoother.”
Padrick and Smith traveled to CR’s headquarters for three days to train with SAM. During instruction, they learned how to use the mapping software telling SAM where to lay each individual brick on the wall. Part of Padrick’s and Smith’s responsibilities are drawing the map and importing it into their build tool used by the tablet PC running the machine. Wireless tablet technology allows Padrick and Smith to troubleshoot on the spot and keep a real-time view of each brick laid. Working with CR’s field technician and engineer on site gaining additional hands-on experience eventually allows CR employees to completely turn over the process to the masons.
“The hands-on training one-on-one with SAM really helped me understand and learn how to use it,” said Padrick. “There’s a new challenge every day.”
SAM is a self-contained system with air and electricity on board to run the machine. Vaporized propane fuels the machine’s generator which produces electricity to run the robot. An air conditioner housed in the cabinet of SAM cools the motherboard while in operation. A laser, in conjunction with the mapping software, designate the placement for each brick adjusting for field measurements taken by the team. Each numbered brick in the software Padrick and Smith use accounts for any windows and any other design considerations on the wall. Digital designs are realized with robotic placement of bricks.
“The laser is like using a mason line, it’s the guide for SAM laying the brick,” said Smith. “We are still learning the ins and outs of it, and there is constant communication between our team and Construction Robotics to keep SAM running efficiently. Their IT is great.”
With the help of our in-house steel fabrication shop and Poynter’s (a Wilhelm affiliated company) sheet metal fabrication shop, Wilhelm was able to fabricate the track system needed and begin the project one month ahead of the original schedule. CR originally designed SAM and the track it operates on, for use with a Hydo-Mobile scaffolding system. Construction Robotics completely redesigned the track to fit our Pro-Series scaffold. Poynter fabricated the track for the robot to move along as an extension to the scaffolding, and Wilhelm’s Steel Division fabricated the structural support of the track.
With the help of the robot, our in-house fabrication capabilities and Poynter (a Wilhelm affiliated company), our team began the Pacer’s project one month ahead of the original schedule. Poynter fabricated the track for the robot to move along as an extension to the scaffolding, and Wilhelm’s Steel Division fabricated the structural support for the track. CR originally designed SAM and the track it operates on for use with a Hydro-Mobile scaffolding system. They completely redesigned the track to fit Wilhelm’s Pro-Series scaffold. Creating a track to work with our Pro-Series scaffolding system allowed Wilhelm to gauge SAM’s operation as we would use it.
Real-time productivity tracking helps to keep SAM on schedule. Software from Construction Robotics comes with SAM that allows anyone with access the ability to track the robot’s progress throughout the day. This includes any stops the robot makes prompting the user to log a reason for its delay each time it stops. It also tracks usage over time to deliver productivity reports.
“So far, Wilhelm holds the record for SAM production,” said Construction Robotics co-founder and President, Scott Peters. “It was great to see them get the record after just a few weeks of running SAM; it showed their ability to learn and implement the machine successfully.”
“We’re tracking SAM’s productivity using separate cost codes on the jobsite,” Berrisford said. “Using the CR software, I can check the live feed at any time, print reports and find out what bricks were laid by date and time.”
Using SAM on site not only enhances productivity, it also reduces health and safety risks to the labor force. According to Peters, masonry injury rates are the highest of any trade. Using SAM drives down the potential for injury to the workers.
Sam is operated by Masons, and the masons still do all the ties, insulation and flashings etc, as well as tooling all the mortor joints for the Brick Sam lays. This work however is less physically taxing, therefore reducing the potential of injury.
As experts in automation, CR continues to evolve SAM’s capabilities with new software enhancements. Features are continually being added. CR is also working on the capability to lay brick standing up (soldier course). Continual monitoring of SAM’s productivity gives Peters insight into what to implement next.
“The data for SAM is constantly uploaded to the website allowing CR to keep an eye on the machine’s production and operation,” said Peters. “We continue to analyze the data to understand what features are necessary in future software updates to help customers improve and be more successful with SAM.”
The value SAM brings to the jobsite is measured, improved and achieved. Peters said this piece of equipment forces a different way of thinking; labor force is flexible where with SAM, pre-planning is essential. Integrating SAM’s capabilities with architects and designers will continue to make brick design easier.
“They have the potential for adding huge value to their customer now that [Wilhelm] has a robot in their arsenal,” Peters said. “We give a lot of praise to Wilhelm. Mike and his team have done an excellent job of implementing SAM on this project and getting successful results. They have a great understanding of what this technology can help them achieve, which is very exciting to see.”
The Pacers Training Facility is the seventeenth project to benefit from SAM technology. There are currently five SAM robots in operation with a sixth just built, and more on their way. As this technology continues to evolve, Wilhelm expects to continue meeting the demands of tighter schedules and more challenging work environments.