Tech in the construction industry is literally lifting the heavy workload

SAM and MULE are two construction workers helping to build a new military barracks in Illinois. SAM lays a brick every 10 seconds, and MULE handles tools, stones and concrete panels up to 135 pounds. It’s the first time these two robots have been used in tandem. With them, New York based company Construction Robotics is redefining the construction industry.


Both robots were designed with a combination of conventional manufacturing principals and innovative technology. They’re specifically engineered to fit seamlessly into a worksite, collaborate with workers and other machines, and increase productivity. SAM (Semi-automated Mason) is solving the tedious task of bricklaying. Its claw-like metal arm extends from a cage, coordinating the ‘buttering’ and laying of bricks. SAMs use customized coding for each project, to lay bricks in complex pattern if needed. The moveable robot can lay bricks six times faster than conventional methods, and can lay up to 3,000 per day. MULE (Material Unit Lift Enhancer) is a lift assist device: a 12 foot arm designed to lift and maneuver heavy objects. It allows one person to move materials quickly and easily. When workers are fatigued, their productivity drops and their risk of injury increases – MULE solves both these problems.

More than 130 MULEs and 11 SAMs are used in worksites across the country, with many more in production. They have better speed and precision, taking away the ‘human error’ factor. And, they reduce waste: easier lifting means less dropping, chipping and damaging of materials.

Safety Concerns

Both machines provide construction companies with immense benefits – one major benefit being safety. In 2017, 20% of private industry deaths were in construction, from falls, electrocution, being struck by, or caught in between objects. These four issues correlated to almost 60% of industry fatalities; eliminating them would save 582 lives.

While the robots may not eliminate all deaths, they definitely help reduce the risk. With machines lifting and laying, there’s less need for workers to be balancing on tall structures or maneuvering themselves to fit pieces together, and less chance of them dropping blocks. And, the robots both have safety features built in. MULE is effectively hand-held, so when a person stops so does it. Although SAM is more autonomous, it has motion sensors that make the machine stop automatically when it detects contact with a person.

Technology in the Future of Construction

The construction industry isn’t known for its high-tech gadgets, instead it’s known for – excuse the pun – strong foundations which have continued through the years. However, it’s common these days to see 3D printed prototypes or visual design software used before the build has started. So, robotic technology on worksites is the next logical step.

Understandably, companies are cautious and construction workers are worried for their jobs. But, with the U.S. facing a major shortage of construction workers, innovative technology like robots is the only way forward.

Are you developing or working with robots? Did you know your R&D work could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you can receive up to 14% back on your expenses? To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.

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