The U.S. residential construction industry employs 100’s of thousands of people each year in various skilled trades that earn hourly pay rates ranging from minimum wage to $100 per hour, or more.
Per BLS statistics, the residential housing space employed over 1 million people at the height of the housing bubble and now accounts for nearly 750,000 jobs.
Of course, just like the auto industry, many of those jobs can be done at a fraction of the cost and with much greater precision by industrial robots. Moreover, those robots work inside a warehouse where they’re immune from the negative consequences of weather and can work 365 days per year without compromising construction integrity.
As Blueprint Robotics’ CEO, Jerry Smalley, points out, nearly 60% of a custom home can be built inside a warehouse and shipped on a standard flatbed truck to its destination for installation.
Production starts with the most precise robot in our factory, the WBZ-160 beam-center. This saw cuts the top and bottom plates for our wall, and pre-drills for the installation of plumbing, venting and electrical rough-in that is soon to be installed.
It’s all pre-determined by the plans you provide. Everything in our factory is pre-cut: drilled, trimmed, fastened and routed with CNC precision.
Once we’ve got the lumber cut, we move to the Framing Station. This machine produces 40 linear feet of framed wall in about 11 minutes. Because robots are executing the nail pattern, it’s incredibly precise. The nail will never be outside of the stud: no misses here.
The wall comes out of the framing station and moves to our Drywall Bridge Station. Here we put a layer of OSB on the frame followed by a layer of drywall. The OSB is nailed to the stud, while the drywall is glued to the OSB and screwed to the stud. The Drywall Bridge Station is also where any openings in the wall, doors, windows, outlets and switches are precisely cut to perfectly square dimensions.
As Bloomberg notes, modular houses, at least in the U.S., used to be reserved for smaller, cheaper homes and that stigma restricted the industry from taking market share in the high-end McMansion neighborhoods. But, that is all gradually changing as modern technology allows companies like Blueprint to manufacture far more complicated custom homes rather than the simple ‘boxes’ of the past.
Today’s plants are capable of producing bigger buildings with more elaborate designs. The Blueprint factory in Baltimore is one of the first in the U.S. to use robots, Fleisher said. Taller multifamily buildings, dorms and hotels are increasingly being manufactured indoors. And so are mansions that sell for millions.
“Some builders won’t even advertise they work with modular companies like us,” said Myles Biggs, general manager of Ritz-Craft Corp.’s Pennsylvania construction facility. “You could be driving past a modular home and not even know it, because it looks just like one next door.”
Ritz-Craft can deliver a single-family house in six to eight weeks, on average. Having an indoor facility means weather delays are rarely a factor. Each worker is given a narrow concentration, like tiling floors or sanding drywall, which increases production speed. People without any background in construction can become skilled laborers in two weeks, according to Biggs.
There doesn’t seem to be any stigma for customers of Connecticut Valley Homes, a builder that assembles factory-made components on lots in New England, including near the stately mansions of Greenwich. The East Lyme-based firm is “booming at moment,” with deposits for 42 houses, up about 50 percent from the same time last year, said Dave Cooper, senior building consultant. The company built only eight homes in 2011, when the housing market was hitting bottom.
Looks like Bill Gates will soon have a lot more robots to tax in the residential construction space.