“Robotics and craftsmanship complement each other”

It was the highlight of the “Bundesgartenschau 2019”: a wooden pavilion made by robot hand. Reinhold Müller, Managing Director of Müllerblaustein Holzbauwerke, implemented this project in cooperation with KUKA and the Institute for Computational Design and Construction at the University of Stuttgart. In an interview, he explains how robotics and craftsmanship go together and what the future holds for timber construction.

Mr. Müller, when did you begin to deal with the topic of automation in your company?
I am the third generation of my family to run our family business. My father was already working on how to optimize work in timber construction by using machines in the 70s and 80s. One thing led to another: At the beginning of the 80s we were one of the first timber construction companies to have a portal CNC milling machine for stair construction and in the 90s we installed the first CNC trimming machine in the Ulm trimming centre. The next step in the 2000s was the introduction of robot technology.

How did the robotics project of the Bundesgartenschau come about?
The University of Stuttgart is researching how new construction methods are created through digital planning and automated production. The scientists had the idea of having a pavilion built by robots and, together with the integrator BEC, looked for a timber construction company to implement it. We were looking for a robotics manufacturer who would support us in our work, and KUKA was looking for a way to use robots in the trade. This is how we came together.

How is a pavilion built by robot hand?
The pavilion of the “Bundesgartenschau” consists of almost 400 elements – each of them unique. The robots cut these elements from wooden panels and beams, position the components, assemble them and glue them together. In contrast to manual production – which is sometimes faster and sometimes slower – the robots need exactly the same time for each element.

How did your employees react to the use of robots?
At first they were very skeptical and thought the robots would take the work away from them. However, in production operations, they realized that the robots relieve them of physically demanding work and they can concentrate on other tasks. Craftsmanship and robotics complement each other ideally here.

What other tasks could robots take on in the future?
All the work that is required to support the carpenter – for example, moving heavy components, correctly dosing and applying adhesives, or positioning the components in such a way that they only need to be joined by the craftsman. There are countless possible applications.

What do you think the future holds for timber construction?
Due to the climate protection discussion and the demand for CO2 savings, timber construction will replace concrete and steel construction in many areas. Due to the increasing demand, automation and the use of robotics will also be indispensable in timber construction in the future.

Many thanks for the interview.

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