With Construction Workers Scarce, Homebuilders Turn to Robots, Software

By on July 3, 2018

From USA Today:  The construction of an American house embodies the spirit of the nation’s workers and the dreams of its citizens.

It’s also perhaps the least-efficient endeavor in the U.S. economy.

Dozens of workers turn a plot of land into a small factory, sawing wood, nailing it together, cutting holes for windows, running wires and pipes and installing drywall and other finishes. Four months or so later, voila: A home for generations of families.

Now, a worsening construction worker shortage that has driven up home prices is beginning to turn that routine – largely unchanged over the past century – on its head.

At a sprawling factory owned by Blueprint Robotics on the industrial outskirts of this city, a house frame – complete with windows, plumbing, insulation and electrical wires – is chiseled in large panels by computerized machines in about a day. The pieces of walls, floors and roof are then trucked to the construction site to be assembled in several more days. Although drywall and other features must still be added, the process – which has been used in Europe for decades – can shave the time to build a house by as much as half.

A new generation of prefabricated housing that bears little resemblance to the modular homes of old is among several technologies homebuilders are embracing to cope with the worker shortage. They’re also starting to deploy bricklaying robots and software programs that allow them to avoid miscommunication and delays.

“We’re at a tipping point where it’s finally just gotten too expensive to build the old-fashioned way,” says Margaret Whelan, CEO of Whelan Advisory and an investment banker for the home building industry.

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