Fastbrick signs a deal with Caterpillar to develop bricklaying robots

July 7, 2017

Jessica Sier
July 3 2017

Investors poured into small-cap robotics company, Fastbrick Robotics, on Monday after the company struck a deal with global construction manufacturer Caterpillar.

The US giant, which manufactures construction and mining equipment, has invested $2.6 million in the Perth-based company and signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the development, manufacture, sales and services of Fastbrick’s robotic bricklaying technology.

Fastbrick is building a commercial version of its robot bricklaying machine, Hadrian X, which will cost about $2 million when it goes into full production in 2019.

Shares in Fastbrick rocketed 19.05 per cent higher to 12.5¢.

The Hadrian X requires little human interaction and works day and night, laying up to 1000 bricks an hour, which is about the output of two human bricklayers for a day.

Caterpillar will also earn the option to invest a further $US8 million ($10.4 million) in the company, taking its stake to about 7 per cent.

News of mining and industrial automation has investors flocking in droves into companies looking to increase mine and construction productivity while keeping labour costs and risks low.

Fastbrick’s announcement comes just days after Fortescue Metals announced it hopes to become the first miner to fully automate the majority of its haul-truck fleet.

Fortescue, which operates 56 self-driving trucks at its Solomon mining hub, said on Sunday it would automate the remaining 12 manned haul trucks at Solomon and another 100 trucks at its Chichester mining hub.

Robotic Process Automation and artificial intelligence have been maturing steadily over the past 10 years, with remote control centres, autonomous haulage trucking and rail, drilling and automated blasting systems commonplace throughout Australian businesses.

The CSIRO recently released a report saying that in the next 20 years, 44 per cent of Australian jobs are at risk of computerisation and automation.

Caterpillar’s mining automation and solutions region manager recently outlined how a global giant like Caterpillar looks at the implementation of automotive technologies.

“It’s easy for companies to get excited about, to focus on the technology itself, concluding that it alone will do the ‘heavy lifting’,” said Cark Hendricks at the WA Mining Club.

“The mining industry has access to many very valuable manned technologies that even today still underpin operation of autonomous haulage systems, but site commitment to their use and support has been inconsistent.

“This has been tolerated because with a human still a the wheel, tonnes can still be moved, even if sub-optimally. With autonomy, there is no longer a human to operate the machine and failure to support the technology will result in fully suspended operation.”