Brick-laying robot helping construct buildings in Michigan

- University of Michigan's newest medical building is being built right now in Brighton with the help of a rare robot.

Its name is SAM, short for semi-automated mason. He's helping Michigan Bricklayers, and giving us a glimpse into the future. The brick-laying robot is the newest and most technologically advanced tool Michigan Bricklayers have at their disposal.

SAM is one of only eight that exist. The robot can place up to 400 bricks an hour, and increase productivity five fold. But, more importantly, it helps make brick mason's lives easier, safer and healtier.

"It limits the repetitive motion. So it takes [away] all the chronic pain eventually a bricklayer is going to have, a worn out shoulder, you know, a sore back," says Brad Maurer, general field superintendent.

A blueprint of the wall is mapped out on an iPad, and, using lasers, the robot knows exactly where to lay the bricks, when to use custom cut pieces and when to change to a different style bricks.

"There's a laser on the far end a receptical down here, that shoots a straight line from end to end which is adjusted by an iPad. So the guys can tweak it for heights. They can tweak it down or up if they have to hit windows or doors," says Maurer.

But don't see this as a robot steals jobs. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Four union bricklayers work with the robot, and they say SAM helps them do their jobs more efficiently.

Sam can lay upwards of 3,000 bricks a day it reduces the bricklayers' lifting and twisting power by 80 percent.

"There's always going to be that fine tuning. The machine's not going to just be able to take over," says Dave Blom, bricklayer foreman.

Members of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union of Michigan say not only does it do the heavy lifting, but playing with a robot is generating new interest in the profession.

"It's a good draw for younger guys that might not be into back breaking work. It's going to get them excited about construction, about doing construction," says Maurer.

SAM costs half a million dollars, which is why companies will rent it on a per-job basis. The robot has already been used to help build four buildings in Michigan.

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