Headshot of Dan Frye

Dan Frye

Layout Superintendent

Meet Dan

A safer jobsite, increased productivity, and high quality results…three key priorities we take into account when we consider the use of advanced technology in our construction processes. Leveraging tools that can improve all three of these areas certainly has our undivided attention, which is why automation and robotics are rightfully among the mix of GLY’s R+D efforts.

Construction may be more dynamic and unpredictable than a factory environment, but humans and robots can still be a win-win scenario. Robots do the physically strenuous tasks, and we rely on human knowledge and experience to figure out the best way to do the task. When something in the built structure needs to change from the original drawing, people have the analytical skills necessary to determine which adjustments to make.

Enter Dusty, an automated layout and printing robot from California-based Dusty Robotics.

Robotic layout has been a dream, promising workers less hardship on the knees and joints, greater precision, faster timelines, and even exact as-builts at the end of construction. Everyone from layout crews to clients stands to benefit. So, for the past three months, under the watchful eyes of GLY’s Layout Superintendent, Dan Frye, and R+D Manager, Adam Cisler, Dusty’s been laying out interior buildouts using 3D models for multiple clients in the corporate office and healthcare sectors.

GLY R+D Manager Adam Cisler with Amber #9 layout robot and Dusty Robotics CEO Tessa Lau.

Observations + Best Practices

This testing has been pragmatic, as we always try to be for new innovations. Are the promises true? Can we develop best practices? Can the robotic approach improve worker safety and client outcomes? We’ve learned a lot after letting the robot navigate 100,000 square feet of floor area. Here are some observations and recommendations to drive a successful robotic layout process:

Rely on the experts.

Layout professionals remain as important as ever. At GLY, these technicians are union Carpenters and Operators who specialize in layout. The job now involves operating and maintaining the complex new robotic tool.

  • Survey expertise is essential for grid control, so the robot knows where it is and where it’s going.
  • It’s important to spot-check dimensions and watch for the occasional glitch.
  • During the layout process, the technician should address any physical obstacles and make sure nearby workers stay out of the way.
  • A laser system guides Dusty so it understands where it is in the space. The layout technician needs to set up this system with proper survey techniques using an eye for grid control in the geometry of the space.

Dusty is a tool, and still requires an expert for great results.

Provide a complete + accurate roadmap.

The robot will mark the floor from the model or CAD, so you need to complete and update the digital drawings before you start—no placeholder dimensions or wall types! That means finalizing every design choice or field question that could affect layout. However, if a coordination issue did exist in the marked layout, you could find it more easily because it would be right in front of you.

Accurate as-builts are important. An unexpected column, or something small like an embed, might impede Dusty or cause it to lose positional lock. We walk and spot-check the space in advance to make sure every condition is marked in the digital as-built drawings. Once GLY lays out a floor, the markings provide useful starting point for subcontractor layouts, which might use the traditional methods. This adds to their precision as well.

Keep the space clean.

Everything is easier if you start layout with a clean, empty, dry floor relatively free of workers. If that’s asking too much, the machine can lay the space out in sections. This is a critical factor in scheduling and logistics plans. Layout should occur before trades start moving in and stacking materials. Dusty doesn’t have sensors like a Roomba, though future models will.

The robot can draw lines within 1/16″ of a vertical obstacle, such as this pipe, aided by a swing-out print head.

The Bottom Line

GLY will continue to assess Dusty and other new models. So far, the signs look positive from a layout person’s, contractor’s, and client’s perspective.

  • Safety is a clear benefit. Working with a robot avoids many of the physical aspects of layout—kneeling, climbing columns, and using lifts or ladders to reach high places. Further, when we clean floors for layout we’re also removing tripping and slipping hazards.
  • The new layout process has been fast. We’re typically laying out an office floor in the 30,000-square-foot range in eight hours, vs. 24-40 using traditional methods. Subcontractors can start their work sooner than expected.
  • Robotic layouts seem to be as precise as advertised, within 1/16″. In one instance, GLY performed a layout on top of a subcontractor’s by-hand layout. The only difference was attributed to a 1/8″ error on the human version. Spot checks have been successful as well.
  • As-builts will be equally precise, with less variation vs. the original drawings. These will be mirrors of what’s actually built. This should be helpful for future build-outs, renovations, and system upgrades.

At the full adoption stage we would expect some cost benefit from a robotic system due to the efficiency and speed of the layout process, after the initial cost of the robot and peripherals. Cost risk will also be reduced at the project level by avoiding errors and rework.

Are layout robots here to stay? We think so. But to enhance the human touch, not replace it.

A subcontractor using traditional layout methods [photographed with his permission].

Have questions about robotic layout? Reach out to GLY Layout Superintendent Dan Frye.