Could Robots Install Windows in the Future?

April 17th, 2017 by Trey Barrineau

Robots have been automating door and window manufacturing for several years now, but similar technological advances are also being applied to the installation of fenestration products in modular homes. They have the potential to help ease the labor strain in the construction industry, which is struggling to attract skilled workers.

Blueprint Robotics in Baltimore runs an assembly-line operation that builds modular or manufactured housing, a market segment that has matured far beyond the old stereotype of mobile homes and shoddy construction.

“Some builders won’t even advertise they work with modular companies like us,” Myles Biggs, general manager of Ritz-Craft Corp.’s Pennsylvania construction facility, told Bloomberg. “You could be driving past a modular home and not even know it, because it looks just like one next door. … Often when we exhibit a model home at trade shows, I will hear comments like ‘This is nice for a trailer.’ Our homes are far from it, and in many ways higher-quality than those built on site.”

The market for these modular housing is growing, too. U.S. demand for manufactured housing is forecast to reach 85,000 units in 2020, according to a study from the Freedonia Group, an international industry market research company based in Cleveland, Ohio.

At Blueprint Robotics, walls for modular homes are put together along a robotic assembly line. According to the company, it can produce 40 linear feet of framed wall in about 11 minutes. Robots then precisely cut the rough openings for doors and windows. After adding drywall, insulation and siding, a pneumatic gantry picks up the doors or windows, places them in the pre-framed and cut openings, and secures them in place. Carpenters in the factory then complete the fastening and flashing.

Homebuilders frequently say the labor shortage is their biggest challenge, and recent surveys from the National Association of Home Builders show that the lack of workers is adding about 5.2 percent to the average cost of a new home. President Trump’s plans to get tough on undocumented workers could increase labor issues in the industry.

While it’s unclear if Blueprint’s robot-assisted window installations could be used in the field, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. One device in the construction industry is already there.

Hadrian, a brick-laying robot designed in Australia, can put down 1,000 bricks an hour, according to New Atlas.

“The Hadrian reduces the overall construction time of a standard home by approximately six weeks,” Fastbrick Robotics CEO Mike Pivac said. “Due to the high level of accuracy we achieve, most other components like kitchens and bathrooms and roof trusses can be manufactured in parallel and simply fitted as soon as the bricklaying is completed.”

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