Can Robots Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis?

From Belinda Carr.

The P4 Housing Collective in Idaho builds affordable apartment buildings in a factory environment with robot arms, gantry cranes, CNC machines and more. Their automated construction line can tackle the skilled labor shortage, which remains the key limiting factor to expanding home construction and improving housing inventory and affordability.

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0:00 Introduction
1:23 Digital models
1:51 Lumber processing
3:20 Assembly
4:46 Final construction
6:44 Housing crisis
7:50 Skilled labor shortage
9:07 Scaling up production
10:38 Conclusion

This innovative 400,000 sqft factory is a turnkey automation solution for offsite construction. The process removes a lot of the on-site risks by building prefabricated modules in a controlled, indoor environment. A digital kit of parts is sent to a Hundegger machine that cuts down all the structural lumber to size. It is then wrapped into bundles and sent off to the first assembly line. A vacuum robot lifts dimensional lumber, LVLs, glulams and other structural members onto conveyor rollers.

The robot arms even cut out holes for electrical boxes and lights. All the waste pieces of drywall and OSB drop down onto a conveyor belt and head straight into a dumpster. In addition to wall assemblies, the team has automated the construction of floor assemblies. Open web joists are picked up by a large robot arm and placed on conveyor rollers. They are nailed to a supporting frame and passed down the assembly line to meet their corresponding wall panels.

The communication and collaboration between workers also impressed me. Everyone seemed knowledgeable not only about their task, but also about the entire construction process. The company seems truly passionate about solving the affordable housing crisis in the States. To them, it is not just a tagline.

Another advantage of automated factories for offsite, modular construction is the role it can play in helping fix the skilled labor shortage. The next generation of workers who will enter the construction industry are not as keen on outdoor, manual labor. Their lifestyles are different and their expectations are different. An automated, technology-driven environment with new methods of construction can attract new talent and younger workers. The company is applying the concept of gamification to construction. They don’t need to hire skilled masons or carpenters. They have actually found that video gamers are pretty good operators for their robotic systems.

I think one of the many challenges to standardization of buildings is that clients and designers take a lot of pride in their projects. Construction isn’t identical to the automotive industry where we’ve accepted that we’re going to drive the same car as millions of other people. Homeowners, businesses and designers want a bespoke or unique project. I think architects need to work with people from a technical background, to prove that we can make bespoke projects with standardized components.

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#housing #automation #construction #homeless #architecture #robots #3dprinting