Robot sets out to improve accuracy at Bedford Hospital project


Onlookers at Ashe’s Bedford Hospital’s North Wing project weren’t imagining things when they saw a robot travelling around Gilbert Hitchcock House recently. The machine was performing the intricate task of setting out the internal walls and mechanical, electrical and plumbing installations on site.

Ashe’s quality department has been trialling the use of this new piece of technology which aims to increase accuracy and efficiency in the setting out process.

The HP Site Print robot works wirelessly through an electronic theodolite and distance meter. Early engagement with designers allows digital information from a project’s BIM (Building Information Modelling) model to be used. This enables the robot to travel around the space through a user interface such as a tablet, phone or laptop to mark out the location of key elements of the design.

Ashe is committed to using innovation and technology to aid continuous improvement and efficiency on all its projects so quality manager, Rob Hatchett, was keen to see if the gadget could help improve precision, create cost and time savings and reduce carbon emissions.

He explains: “The robot uses our BIM modelling process to provide precise layout markings within millimetre accuracy, even over a rough floor which is crucial for minimising errors and rework.

“By automating the layout process, we can reduce the time spent on setting out and reduce human error due to the robot printing all the walls and services with precision, this allows us to see if there are any clashes on site in a real-world scenario.”

Multiple efficiencies

Using the robot has many benefits not just from a quality and time perspective, it provides environmental efficiencies such as minimising material waste and reduces the labour costs associated with manual layout tasks which in turn reduces scope three business travel emissions.

Rob continues: “The robot performs tasks consistently; it doesn’t fatigue and ensures uniformity and reliability across the entire project. But don’t worry, it won’t put people out of a job, we’ll still need humans to operate it and it will allow us to redeploy staff to other activities on site.”

Early engagement

The use of innovations such as the HP Site Print relies heavily on initial human input and will still require a human to provide regular maintenance and ensure optimal performance.

Rob adds: “Of course, the data needed has to be full and accurate so we will be working very closely with our consultants from an early point in the project planning because we are relying on BIM modelling to avoid any technical issues. We’re looking forward to the point where we can use innovation like this on all our projects to help us find greater efficiencies in the way we operate.”

Ashe started work on the £11.8m contract at Gilbert Hitchcock House for Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in April. Procured through the Pagabo Major Works framework, it will transform the existing building in Kimbolton Road, to provide diagnostic services such as MRI, CT, ultrasound, x-ray and cardiology services for increased demand in the area.