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Robot may improve safety and efficiency on highway construction projects

June 19, 2020 08:00 AM
By: Dave Thompson

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​Robotic technology could make a tedious and time-consuming construction process safer, faster and more efficient.

A robot designed to tie rebar on bulk tie operations was deployed recently at a local bridge replacement project in Cumberland County. PennDOT District 8 has oversight on the design and construction of the county-owned bridge, which carries Orrs Bridge Road over Conodoguinet Creek in Hampden Township.

The robot, owned by Pittsburgh-based TyBot LLC, uses sensors and artificial intelligence to locate and tie rebar intersections on bulk tie operations.

District 8 officials were on hand on a hot, muggy day in early June to observe the operation: District Executive Mike Keiser, Assistant District Executive for Design Chris Drda, and Assistant District Executive for Construction Kevin Keefe.

According to company rep Danielle Proctor, the robot, which is mounted on the same rails used to place concrete on the bridge deck, can tie about 1,000 rebar intersections an hour – the approximate output of six-to-eight workers.

That's good news for LaMar Childs, owner of Spring House, PA-based rebar contracting company LB Construction Enterprises, which is performing the rebar work on the bridge. The Orrs Bridge Road project requires the tying of approximately 40,000 rebar intersections.

Mr. Childs said using technology for bulk tying operations is safer and allows him to direct his workers to other tasks or projects. The technology doesn't replace workers, but simply allows them to perform other work that is less tedious and tiring, he added.

“In general, tying rebar can be backbreaking work," he said. “Any time I can reduce the wear and tear on my employees works well for me."

The machine works autonomously using a camera-like “eye" to locate rebar intersections, position itself over them, and then ties them with 16.5-gauge wire. A quality control technician follows it to ensure it is working properly.

It has a success rate of 98-to-99 percent, Ms. Proctor said. Missed intersections are marked with paint and tied by hand.

TyBot has been used on a handful of projects in Pennsylvania and has been deployed in other states, as well, according to Ms. Proctor.  Another system that carries and places rebar soon will be available that can work in tandem with the current rebar tying technology, she said.

“This is an example of how new ideas and innovation improves safety and efficiency in our ongoing work to maintain and improve our transportation system," Mike Keiser said. “It's great to see technology that can operate within the social distancing guidelines related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, I'm very happy to see transportation projects, regardless of whether they are state or local, back up and running."

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