Caterpillar has been around for a long time and has built up a solid reputation in the manufacturing world. Despite its foundation in traditional manufacturing technologies, however, the company is heavily invested in new technology as well, particularly 3D printing. Recently Caterpillar made a commitment to further develop its metal additive manufacturing processes with the help of FIT AG, and now the company is turning its attention to a novel additive manufacturing technology based on one of the oldest methods of construction around – bricklaying.
Last year, we took a look at an Australian company called Fastbrick Robotics. The company is developing a bricklaying robot called Hadrian X, which will be capable of laying more than 1,000 SBEs, or Standard Brick Equivalents, per hour, completing the construction of a full-sized home in anywhere from one to three days. While it’s not a 3D printing process, per se, it does fall under the category of additive manufacturing, as a machine is building structures from the ground up, one layer at a time. If you look at a brick as a giant tangible voxel, it’s really just a variation on 3D printing, although the bricks are prefabricated.
Like 3D printing, the Fastbrick process involves the creation of a CAD model – or in this case, a TAD model, as the company’s specially designed software is called. The model data is fed to the Hadrian X robot, which cuts and routs the bricks to the necessary shape before laying them in the predetermined pattern. Channels for electrical wiring and plumbing are also routed before the bricks are laid, and doors and windows are slotted in after the process is complete. In explaining their approach, Fastbrick likens their technology to 3D printing:
“Using our bespoke software TAD, we generate a 3D model of the home, feed the data into Hadrian X and the machine prints the structure course by course just like a 3D printer, including all cutting and routing of the bricks for electrical and plumbing services so the finished structure is ready for first fixing within days. No human hands need to touch a brick during the loading, cutting and laying process.”
Fastbrick Robotics states that while the technology is a hands-off one, it won’t replace bricklayers – just enable them to transition to safer positions as machine operators and site quality supervisors. While Fastbrick technology isn’t on the market yet, and a date hasn’t been given for its commercial debut, Caterpillar is interested in it, and confident enough to invest $2 million in Fastbrick Robotics. As part of a placement agreement, Fastbrick Robotics will issue fully paid ordinary shares to Caterpillar at AUD 10 cents per share. Caterpillar has also been given an option to invest an additional $8 million at an issue price of 20 cents per share.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two companies also means that Caterpillar will work with Fastbrick Robotics to further develop the technology, potentially bringing it to the market sooner. The MoU initially applies for 12 months, though either company can end the arrangement, or both can agree to extend it, during that time. During this period, Fastbrick will be working exclusively with Caterpillar toward commercialization. Currently, Fastbrick is working with a prototype robot called the Hadrian 105, which can lay 225 bricks per hour, just a preview of what the Hadrian X will be able to do. According to Fastbrick Robotics, the first Hadrian X will be commissioned in Australia, and will eventually be released around the world.
“The global demand for the machines would indicate that a number of different business models will be pursued to ensure that our Patented 3D automated construction system enters the mainstream in as many countries as possible,” the company states. “Further information about business opportunities will be released in due course.”
Many different construction additive manufacturing techniques are currently being developed and released, though Fastbrick technology seems to be unique among them. We look forward to seeing this construction process in real world applications, and the addition of an established, successful company like Caterpillar to the team can only mean good things for the future of Fastbrick Robotics.
“Fastbrick Robotics is delighted to sign a MoU with Caterpillar and welcomes the company as a new shareholder,” said Mike Pivac, Managing Director and CEO of Fastbrick Robotics. “Caterpillar is a globally recognised industry leader, and we look forward to collaborating with the company and uniting our teams to share ideas, pursue innovation and explore opportunities to commercialise our unique technology.”
Pivac noted to Business News Western Australia that ultimately the plan is for Caterpillar to manufacture and distribute the machines. Before that time, the companies will work together to develop the equipment to get it ready for real-world use across a number of verticals including oil and gas, maritime, and mining in addition to construction. Discuss in the Fastbrick forum at 3DPB.com.[Source/Images: Fastbrick]