Robotic Masonry Is Helping to Fill the Skilled Labor Gap

Semi-automated masonry robots may be the answer to the shortage or bricklayers, but they still need assistance from trained masons working alongside them.
April 20, 2019

This is the fifth article in the Precision Construction series, which explores the application of the Internet of Things to digitally transform the construction industry, ultimately with the objective to improve labor productivity, reduce costs and enhance safety. The series began with Exploring Digital Transformation for Construction, followed by Simplifying Complex IoT Solutions, United Rentals Drives Efficiency & Excellence with IoTUnited Rentals Helps Customers Optimize Equipment RentalMixed Reality for Construction: Applicability and Reality, Taking Environmental Monitoring to a New Level and Digital Transformation – Enabling New Business Models for Construction. Articles generally follow a five-layer framework, described in Simplifying Complex IoT Solutions, that makes it easier to understand digital transformation solutions. To learn more about the various technologies described in this series, visit

A challenge in the construction industry today is finding qualified people, especially bricklayers and masons. Today, masonry is populated with an aging workforce while maintaining a high level of quality requires top-notch craftsmanship and work ethic—much higher level talent than the industry has available to hire.

Even large contractors may turn very few applicants away due to the high demand for labor. However, want ads tend to draw a lot of under-qualified people In fact, nearly two-thirds of bricklaying contractors say they are struggling to find workers, according to a survey by the National Association of Home Builders.

To address these and other issues in the masonry field, Nathan Podkaminer and Scott Peters started Construction Robotics in 2007 with the goal of advancing construction through the use of robotics and automation. The company’s flagship product is the semi-automated mason known as SAM. A typical mason will lay between 350 and 550 bricks in an eight-hour day, whereas SAM lays 350 bricks per hour.

The robot

The SAM100 was the first commercially available bricklaying robot for onsite masonry construction, launched in February 2015 at World of Concrete in Las Vegas where it won the Industry Choice Award for most innovative product. The newest version, the SAM100 OS 2.0, debuted at World of Concrete in January 2017. SAM is a collaborative robot designed to work with the help of trained masons; it relies on one mason to operate it, a tender to load it with bricks and mortar and another mason to secure wall ties, remove excess mortar and lay bricks in corners or other challenging areas.


SAM’s basic components include a large robotic arm with multiple joints, a laser eye that detects depths and distances required to place each brick, a pair of story poles at the left and right of the work area, a CAM (computer-aided manufacturing)-generated design for mapping the job and a tablet-based control panel.

Figure 1: SAM100

SAM includes several sensors that measure and track velocity, incline angles, orientation, outside and enclosure temperature, humidity, run hours, GPS, safety and more. For instance, SAM measures the slump and quality of mortar being applied. All data generated is time stamped to the millisecond.

Considering that SAM is a semi-automated robot, it still needs the skill and assistance of trained masons working alongside it to ensure quality and accuracy of certain aspects of the job. For instance, SAM picks up every brick by three points (two on the back and one on the front), but if one of those points hits a bump or piece of debris on the brick, SAM doesn’t know that, so it still presses on the three points assuming they are the same every time. In this case, it could twist the brick by as much as a quarter of an inch. Given this, SAM requires two masons to follow along and clean up the mortar while fixing any twisted bricks as the robot goes along the wall.


All data collected by SAM is uploaded over LTE in real time to CR’s own, self-managed private cloud running in an outsourced data center.

Every five minutes, CR transmits all activity since the last upload, which includes information on each and every brick placed. This data includes length, width and height coordinates, outside temperature, humidity, mortar slump, mortar applied to which bricks, which brick in wall, location of brick, course of brick, time and date each brick went into the wall, and how long it has been since the previous brick was placed. All data transferred is encrypted.


Data is stored in a SQL database running on the hosted database server. In addition, no one has access to the database directly. CR uses a front-end application that interacts with the data and presents it to users based on a user access system administered by the web server.


Every contractor who signs up is given an account by Construction Robotics to gain access to the data from their jobs. The application goes from a high-level overview all the way down to a specific day for a specific job. Supervisors can look at the data in real time and see things such as performance trends, average bricks laid per hour or per day, peak production times, downtime and more.

Figure 2: Day Overview Dashboard – Number of Bricks Laid per Day

The current mindset in construction is that the status of a project can be understood through pictures, but there is no real data stored in a picture. Unless someone examines the photo and counts every brick, there is no way of knowing how many bricks are in a wall, let alone exactly how long it took to put them there. With SAM, data from every single brick and all of its sensors is tracked and learned from, allowing the customer to see who was working with the machine, who was mixing the mortar, the temperature outside, whether or not it was raining and much more.

This data helps customers understand the value of using SAM because it usually shows how production for a first-time SAM job increases steadily over the course of the project due to the learning curve in the first couple weeks as workers get used to using and working with SAM. From that data, the contractor can see how future projects with SAM will be even more productive, assuming the workers won’t have that learning curve a second time. Using analytics to see trends in this data is what truly allows for improvement in performance and efficiency.

Figure 3: Two-Day Summary


The biggest benefit to using SAM is that it is relentless; it doesn’t require bathroom or lunch breaks and doesn’t get distracted by texts and phone calls. SAM keeps working as long as it’s full of fuel, mortar and brick, dramatically increasing productivity and efficiency. This isn’t to say that the crew has less to do now, however. Human labor is still needed to mount insulation sheets, screw in brick anchors, retrieve materials and monitor quality. But now the crew can do those things while SAM is laying brick—at a rate of about one every eight seconds.

Figure 4: SAM at Work on a Tall Building

Using SAM also reduces the crew size. A job that once took five bricklayers and two laborers now takes two bricklayers and one laborer, saving customers more than 50% on labor costs. At first glance, one might think there is a concern that SAM and other construction robot technology will eliminate the need for a mason in the future, but Construction Robotics disagrees. Contractors understand that the older generation of masons is retiring and fewer young folks are entering the industry, especially those with intent to do traditional, physical labor. Therefore, the ability to remain highly productive with fewer people is a good thing. In addition, working with construction technology like SAM is more attractive to younger generations.

Figure 5: SAM and Mason Working Together

In addition, bricklaying is a manual, repetitive and very physically demanding job. SAM takes an immense amount of that physical labor and repetitive motion away from crew members, enabling them to work safer with less fatigue and a lower risk of injury. Construction Robotics has found that using SAM reduces lifting aspects of the job by more than 80%, which helps to increase the overall health and safety of the masons.

The quality of wall alignment also improves. At the end of the day, using SAM results in as good a product or better than one obtained with only human labor. For instance, SAM is exceptionally good at lining bricks up vertically. Head joints done by human labor will always drift laterally due to human variation, but with SAM’s laser guides and sensors measuring and adjusting for vibrations or wind on the scaffold, vertical lines are kept perfectly straight.

SAM also provides customers with valuable insights and analytics for estimating and scheduling future projects. CR is able to tell a customer what to expect for performance on any particular job with different aspects of a wall system thanks to all of the known information such as brick types and number of windows. This information takes the guesswork out of estimating future projects, giving the customer more confidence to schedule jobs and line up labor.

There are pros and cons of using new methods and machines in the construction field, but as SAM evolves, its big splash into masonry will morph into steady waves that truly change the industry.

Figure 6: A Brick Wall Built by SAM

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