Although brick and block production has become increasingly automated in the past six years, the masonry construction industry today seems less interested in automating the jobsite. Although some automation and use of robots seems inevitable, there is little new development at this time.

Still, with masons in short supply and ergonomic issues getting more scrutiny, new innovators, confident their systems will revolutionize the craft, have entered the picture with machines designed to reduce the physical strain on the mason and increase efficiency and output.

One such innovator, VR Industries of Rochester, N.Y., introduced the VR2000 at the 1998 Masonry Expo. Joe Duncan, a mason in his youth, invented the 800-pound machine that uses three sets of hydraulically controlled "floating jaws" to grab and place three 8-, 10-, or 12-inch block at a time. The VR2000 reaches 8 feet high from grade level and runs on 120-volt, 15-amp electricity. A choice of track, trailer, or platform mounting is available.

The VR2000 recently won two awards at the 5th Annual Yankee Invention Exposition: Best of Show (out of 141 exhibitors) and Best in Category (commercial, capital intensive). The machine, which has a base price of $28,650, has generated many inquiries but no sales yet to masonry contractors. The company has sold two VR2000 machines to concrete block producers.

In the mid-1990s, IMI and the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratories (CERL) together developed a working prototype of MAMA, a low-voltage, electric-powered gripping device that moves along a rail system. IMI decided to warehouse MAMA after it became damaged in a tropical storm, but MAMA has been redesigned with a huge reduction in moving parts and has been field-tested. After the machine is patented, Indiana State University and CERL will sell the patent to a manufacturer, and more information will be available.

The article includes a description of a two- to four-cable system designed to deliver masonry units or mortar to any level of a scaffold.