Is It Time to Change the Game?

Have you ever been frustrated by a piece of equipment you knew would do the job, but you couldn't put your hands on it?

In the late ‘70s on a steel erection job in Washington D.C., a place with notoriously tight working spaces, an ironworker with an impossible jobsite workspace came up with an approach for an articulated boom. A couple of days later, with the original fixed boom cut down, and some additional hydraulics added, the crane went to work. This idea, while not exactly “kosher” at the time, got the job done, and a few years later, the same idea came to the commercial equipment market, known today as the popular knuckle-boom crane.

Sometimes the “field improvised” solution is exactly what you need at the moment, but getting this solution in a “commercialized” version, seems just beyond the horizon.

Innovation in the “heavy capital goods” marketplace has always been a challenge. There aren’t a lot of players, because the barriers to entry are high, and the concept-to-design-to-production-to-market cycle can seem to take forever.

What can we do in the interim?

To remain competitive, we must always be prepared for the next big challenge, and often it requires specialized equipment that may not exist yet.

There’s hope on the horizon. What if we could apply robotic 3D metal printing to the construction equipment process?

There’s a new initiative called MX3D that is developing an easy-to-use “plug & print” robotic additive manufacturing software platform to transform standard industrial robots (six-axis robotic arms) into a large-scale, mobile, 3D printer for construction.

At the same time, RAMLAB, which opened in the Port of Rotterdam last November (considered the world's first additive manufacturing lab for the maritime industry), is employing 3D printing of huge custom propellers for ocean-going tugboats using wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) robots.

WAAM promises to be a low-cost option that can create parts that have nearly zero material waste, when compared to up to 90 percent material waste on parts produced by a conventional subtractive, computer controlled, machine. WAAM can even create parts that aren’t producible using today’s conventional manufacturing methods.

Construction companies often are hesitant to be early adopters in any emerging technology. Traditionally conservative and risk-averse, they prefer to wait for a technology to prove itself before adopting it. Can you see how these innovations would be “game changers?”

Jim Kissane is a construction industry expert, having served the space for more than 30 years.

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