Tomorrow’s homes to be built by robots that will be maintained by human workers

Just like everyone else, the construction industry is turning to automation. A new report on notes that modular factories are saving American developers both time and money while filling in the labor gap. An example the authors of the article give, is Baltimore-based Blueprint Robotics which builds homes on an assembly line, similar to what our grandparents did with cars. While the robots can drill holes and speed up the process, human operators are still needed to place the electrical boxes and pipes in the right places. “This has to be the wave of the future,” a consultant says in the article. 

It’s a win-win situation, according to industry analysts. The robots may be more precise than human workers but they still require well-trained electricians and plumbers to consolidate everything. Jerry Smalley, Chief Executive Officer of Blueprint, says that the company’s machines are even creating opportunities for professionals who would not otherwise be a part of the construction industry. In true assembly fashion, the modular factory has various production floors, with workers operating machines that perform specific functions. “Traditional” construction education is not required. In fact, one worker in the Baltimore company, Cyndicy Yarborough — once a Walmart clerk with no background in construction —  finds her place in the company after only taking a free, six-month course on computer numerical control machines, which is available only to unemployed or low-income adults.

This is a huge sigh of relief for many workers who fear their jobs will soon be lost to automation robots.

You don’t need to have a background in construction

Workers in places such as rural Pennsylvania, where labor costs are cheap, could soon find themselves employed. Developers are now building their factories to manufacture homes in sections which are then transported on trucks and laid down on foundations by cranes. Fast-growing cities such as Denver and Nashville, Tennessee are now looking at modular factories to address their growing demand for apartments. Vice President of the Champion Homes’ modular division, David Reed, says, “labor costs are more favorable for factory construction.” Reed may have been referring to the discrepancy in worker rates in different areas. Workers in rural Pennsylvania, for example, make around $15 to $20 an hour, compared to the $50 to $100 an hour workers in New York’s Hudson Valley or in the Washington, D.C. area make.

Having these homes “pre-built” can not only cut construction time but provide employment opportunities for workers living in rural areas. Kris Megna, who founded Dreamline Modular Homes in 2010 mentions in the same article that, “the house is 60 percent complete when it arrives, and that means 60 percent of the headaches of building are gone.” Indeed, a single-family house can be delivered in six to eight weeks on average, says Myles Biggs, General Manager of Ritz-Craft Corp.’s Pennsylvania construction facility. Biggs adds that the reduced time frame is due to the home being made in an indoor facility, meaning that weather delays (a typical construction challenge) are no longer a concern. Moreover, the dry, piece-by-piece process of modular building implies that each worker is given a narrow concentration. “People without any background in construction can become skilled laborers in two weeks,” he says.

Modular factories are building better

“You could be driving past a modular home and not even know it, because it looks just like [the] one next door,” boasts Biggs. Advancements in technology mean that today’s plants are more capable of producing bigger buildings with more elaborate designs. Already multifamily dorms and hotels are being manufactured indoors. There are even suggestions that the Marriot chain of hotels is in talks with some North American developers to produce around 50 of its Select branded hotels. Late last year, Marriot opened a Fairfield Inn in Folsom California. The 97-room project was entirely built at the Guerdon Enterprises LLC plant in Boise, Idaho.  

There is a tempered, although admittedly optimistic, view among construction experts that the robot trend will help improve the industry.

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