Sustainability from the ground up

Canadian company Intelligent City is on a mission to transform the way the construction industry operates. With automation and robotics, Intelligent City thinks the time is ripe to vastly improve the sustainability of an industry that is the world’s number one source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Based in Vancouver, the company have become experts in offsite construction of timber-built modules that can be connected to produce buildings up to 18 stories high. Making use of Canada’s large timber resources, Intelligent City can deliver fully integrated mass timber based turnkey products with passive house certification to meet the highest energy standards.

This product-based approach allows ‘urban densification’, promoting sustainable city living by infilling small or brownfield sites rather than building on greenfield areas. The use of a common platform, based on modular floor panels with integrated services, gives a full structural system that can be erected rapidly, and which meets all the requirements of a high performing building.

Intelligent City can also model the building in a digital twin that allows the performance of the project to be tested before it even arrives on site.

On the shop floor, ABB’s robots are used to process, handle and assemble large sections of timber in the prefabrication production line. Three robotic systems are used, including several robots integrated with tracks. Operating in cells, the robots produce timber components according to designs created in Intelligent City’s Platforms for Life (P4L) design software, enabling customized structures to be built according to specific customer requirements.

ABB’s RobotStudio offline programming software is also used with P4L to plan tasks and movements for the ABB robots. Every component gets its own file and can be simulated and executed directly.

Key benefits of using the robots include improved production efficiency, a 38% improvement in project delivery times and a 33% reduction in the cost of producing a modular home. Wastage has also been significantly reduced as the robots can be used to optimize the production process to minimize things such as off-cuts.

RobotStudio has also been very valuable in helping to model cells as well as the layout of the factory to help optimize the production line.

"We simply can’t do this without robots or advanced software"

Oliver Lang, co-founder and CEO of Intelligent City, believes automation is fundamental to the company’s whole sustainable approach to construction: “Automation allows a range of solutions, allowing people to embrace it. It also ensures quality control and repeatable processes to improve the performance of buildings. We simply can’t do this without robots or advanced software.”

For Lang, three things connect sustainability and robotics. Firstly, improving the quality of a building through automation means the building will last longer so it doesn’t have to be replaced with a new building after a few years, using more energy and resources.

“The second is the material itself,” says Lang. “Wood really lends itself to robotic automation because of its malleability and processability. It is easy to add to or subtract from without much penalty. It is also extremely lightweight for its strength and so production is therefore much easier to automate.”

The third is the adaptability of a developed product. “Building housing as a product means you have figured out everything from design to manufacture and that we can adapt every building element and component. The only repetition is in the logic of the workflow – the system is pre-engineered to work through all the possible permutations.

“Variability is also important. A building is far more than just its components, it also about how you site it and make the best use of light and heat. Buildings are typically built generically and must be retrofitted with equipment to suit their environment. We don’t have to do this with a passive structure.”

Lang appreciates the support of ABB in helping the company grow and develop its production system. “It is absolutely fantastic to be able to work directly with a large company like ABB with all its knowledge and experience,” says Lang. “This is hugely valuable. It is very reassuring that a small start-up company like Intelligent City can work and innovate with ABB. Working together, we are pushing the boundaries of the software, discovering a lot of functionality in RobotStudio and how to integrate it with our own software. “

Robot benefits

  • Prefabrication and digital pre-construction methods reduce on-site construction times by up to 50%
  • Cuts costs and shortens timelines for clients

Intelligent City in brief

  • Operations: Construction and Project development, including Residential Development and Commercial Property Development
  • Operates in Canada and the USA
  • CEO: Oliver Lang


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