Robotic Systems Help Contractors Overcome Workforce Challenges

SAM, the robotic brick-laying machine developed by Construction Robotics, sets bricks on a Berich Masonry jobsite. Photo courtesy of Berich Masonry.

Over the last year, the talented team of craftsmen at Colorado-based Berich Masonry, Inc. have looked to robotic technology to help meet client needs and drive efficiency. In business since 1962, the company is well known for its work on public and private structures throughout the state. Faced with workforce shortages and tight project schedules, the company is looking for help from technology, namely the Semi-Automated Mason or SAM robotic brick-laying machine developed by Construction Robotics. SAM combines a robotic arm, a conveyor belt, a mortar mixer and pump and some sophisticated programming.

Todd Berich, President and Owner of Berich Masonry, says his company has never used any type of automated or robotic equipment before. He added, “We knew were going to need some help completing upcoming jobs. The workforce shortage has hit our industry hard and talented craftspeople are in short supply.”

Topcon: next level precision

In early 2018, Berich put SAM to work at an elementary school in Englewood, Colo. and realized almost immediate advantage. When asked about the operation of SAM, Berich noted, “It’s been a really interesting move for our team. We had to learn how to develop the map that tells the robot how to build a specific job, but the system is user-friendly and we got a handle on that fairly quickly.”

He also thought he’d get considerable pushback from the company’s experienced brick layers, concerned that the robotic system would take their jobs. “I guaranteed them that wouldn’t happen and that, in fact, we’d be able to do more volume, which would equate more hours and greater job security,” Berich said.

Today, Berich’s most experienced brick layers vie to use SAM on every job. To date, the robotic brick laying system has been used on a community hospital project in Boulder, Colo. And, more recently, for a medical center project in Lone Tree, Colo.

Berich said, “With each use of SAM, we gain more knowledge of its abilities and how to more efficiently use it. That said, we believe we have not realized the full potential of SAM yet.”

Currently, the company largely uses SAM on straight line masonry jobs with moderate detailing requirements, but Berich believes those capabilities will expand in the very near future.

Of note, Berich just signed on to use Construction Robotics second robotic development, the Material Lift Unit Enhancer or MULE, on a project to build a dealership in the Denver metro area. The lift-assist device can handle and place materials, like concrete blocks, that weigh as much as 135 pounds.