Meet SAM: robotics on the job site

SAM, short for Semi-Automated Mason, has been hard at work helping us build Shenandoah University’s new 80,000-square-foot James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics & Events Center in Winchester, Va.

When Manassas-based JD Long Companies was hired as Shockey’s masonry subcontractor for this brick-intensive project, it decided to use SAM as a test run. SAM is one of six brick-laying robots in the country, and it can place approximately 100,000 bricks in a single month.

According to the magazine Commercial Observer, one of the nation’s leading publishers of commercial real estate news, Shockey project superintendent Donnie Werdebaugh witnessed first hand the next generation of masonry work – essentially seeing the the process of brick work change before his eyes as the robot placed nearly 375,000 bricks over a three month period — a job that would have taken one construction worker more than 20 months to do.

As it turned out, SAM even broke its own record while working on the Shenandoah University project – placing 3,270 bricks in a single eight-hour period.

The robot is not fully independent, meaning that human expertise and involvement is still required. “SAM works alongside masons to install bricks, making the humans’ jobs less backbreaking. It is designed to increase productivity and reduce heavy-lifting burdens on construction crews. Masons set SAM up and work alongside it, continuing to use their knowledge and skills while letting the robot handle the repetition and physical labor,” says Scott Peters, one of the co-founders of Construction Robotics.

Shockey’s Werdebaugh says the brick-laying robot significantly enhanced production, explaining that the robot required a smaller team of masons  – someone to feed the bricks along a conveyor belt for SAM to pick up, someone to replenish the mortar, someone to strike the joint, and someone to clean the bricks.  Werdebaugh added that while SAM can install bricks in a set pattern, it doesn’t yet know how to work a corner.

SAM is taking construction innovation to the next level and is attracting interest and publicity from all over the country.  Even HBO’s VICE News visited SAM at work at the Shenandoah University site. (See the HBO segment that aired this summer.)

The new James R. Wilkins Jr. Athletics & Events Center for Shenandoah University is a multipurpose field house with retractable seating for nearly 1,600. As an events space, it can seat about 5,000 people theater-style or nearly 1,000 people for a sit-down dinner. It is expected to open in 2018. The architect is Earl Swensson Associates, Inc. of Nashville.

If your next construction project involves extensive masonry, and you’d like to learn more about the benefits of bringing automation and robotics to the job-site, give us a call.

More About SAM

SAM was developed by Construction Robotics, a small company funded by the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Innovation Research program.