Let’s Tarantino this and show you the ending first. A truck arrives at a home site, the foundation for the house already in place. On the truck are stacks of panels, all neatly piled one on top of another. At this point, you’d expect the crews to start unloading the wood and begin constructing the home – instead, they take each layer off one-by-one and install them directly. Each section that comes off is the exact next section needed for the homes construction – imagine a jigsaw where each puzzle piece you pull is the exact next piece you needed, from start to finish. The framing of the house is put together piece by piece, and then the roof is lowered atop it. Voila! A completely framed home. The time? About five hours; you could go to work in the morning with an empty foundation next door and find an entire house frame and roof constructed when you got home, with a couple hours to spare.
How do we accomplish such a feat? It’s actually pretty simple! We use robots. Okay, maybe we can make it a little simpler – we use a variation of an assembly line process, smart data usage, and a machine line built for efficiency. Let’s walk inside the plant!
There are two main segments to the main plant building. On your left, you can see where the magic happens – a seemingly endless blue machine stretches to the back of the plant, with framing sections in different stages of completion the whole way down. To the right, you see the flooring assemblage. Again, bright blue machinery winds its way to the rear of the building, this time with large sections of flooring in different stages of completion and inspection the whole way down. Although it looks a bit chaotic, the wide walkways and clean cement floors belie a very tightly controlled environment. And controlled it is.
A computer ‘brain’ above the plant floor runs the entire show. The ‘brain’ will intake an order, interpret what pieces need to be built in order to construct it, and feed that information into the two sides of the plant; let’s start with the framing assembly!
Standardized boards are used in the beginning to create a few standard sections used throughout the parts of the wall of the home. Plant workers assemble them on precision molds, and then place them on an elevator with different sections on every level. Using these standardized sizes assures quality and efficiency, while still allowing a lot of flexibility in the design.
Next, we go to the waterfall. The waterfall is a machine that sucks up two-by-fours to build the frame with and spits them out with pre-positioned holes for electrical wiring. The other important piece of work that this machine does is quality assurance – if a board is warped or varies from it’s brothers, the machine will not use that board. This keeps the wood being put into a homes frame of a singular quality. The boards that are selected for the frame are then positioned by a combination of man and machine – the computer places ‘stops’ in the correct positions for the next part of the frame, the plant worker places the board, and the computer nails it into the larger frame panel. It then whirrs down the line until it reaches the next part on that panel that needs a board installed. The plant worker will also pick some of those pre-made segments from before to install into the larger panel. After an entire section is completed, it chugs down the line to the next station.
The next stop on the line is the sheathing section. In this area, a large machine picks up portions of sheathing, a protective outer layer of wood that acts as both a skeleton for the outside of the home and an insulating layer, and place them on panels. A caterpillar-like nail gun machine then feeds the panel into its bay and attaches the sheathing to the panel, using laser-guided technology to assure the nails find their mark in the panel as well as assuring that the panels and two-by-four framing are all up to spec. The panel then continues down to the next station.
The next stop for the wall of our new home is the vertical station. This is a short bypass for panels that need small touches before primetime like electrical boxes or additional wiring holes drilled. The machine pulls those panels from the queue and then, using vacuum tubes and hydraulic arms, picks up the panels and sets them into the vertical line. At the end of the line, the same machine makes them lie flat and the panels prepare for the final stage in the frames building process.
The final stage is the cutting stage. Remember how we mentioned that the whole thing was controlled by a computer? Well, this entire time, that computer has been tricking you into thinking it was only building one panel. Truth is, each 16 foot-long panel can be one, two, three, or even more individual sections of the home. Every home is made up of different sized walls that have a standard height; the computer takes all of those walls and then figures out how to build each 16-foot panel to include each wall. So, for instance, a bathroom might require a four foot section, a two foot section, and a twelve foot section for it’s walls, and the hall leading to it might need a six foot section and an eight foot section.
First it will pick the lumber that it needs for the sections. It then builds the panels for each part of the room.
The computer takes that information in and then plots each 16-foot panel to fit each subdivision so it can build at maximum efficiency.
This means no waste (See? We’re getting greener every day!) and ensures a fast, efficient build. Each section will be cut down to size and then lifted by the machine to be stacked and readied to be loaded on a truck to be taken to the home site.
Here’s where the real magic happens – the computer also determines how to build each panel in such a way so that when it’s finished, the first panel to go into the stack is the last panel they need to finish building and the last panel that goes into the stack is the first panel they need when the truck shows up. That’s how the little magic show we talked about in the beginning happens where no time is wasted unloading or searching – the computer organizes it all in advance.
So great, now we’ve got a bunch of walls – what about the floors? Let’s zip over to the other side of the factory where the flooring panels are being assembled. It all starts at this long, blue trough, where plant workers take the pre-cut sections of flooring lumber and assemble them using molds. Once they have built the zigzagging girders that support the floor boards, they carry them over to a larger assembly.
On this assembly, several sections of floor girder are positioned to prepare them for assembly. Precision-guided systems that can measure down to nanometers adjust the spacing of the pins and recalibrate them constantly to assure the flooring girders are placed perfectly before two large pieced of lumber are attached at either end to firmly bolt the floor girders in place. Once attached to one-another, they are shipped down the line.
At this point, glue is poured onto the girders and floorboards are placed atop the now-attached girders, positioned by a large machine depending on the size of the panels. Again, the computer has a hand in all of this, pre-calculating and picking the appropriate sized boards to place atop the girders so that no waste is created. It then shuffles down the line to the stapling station.
Here, the floorboards are stapled into the girders by large, automated guns – look familiar? They use the same caterpillar-like machinery to roll up and down the boards and precisely staple in the flooring. The machinery is designed to make each staple perfectly centered and correctly placed using the same levels of precision used all over the plant. Once assembled, the large sections of flooring are again placed in stacks to be shipped, with the first piece needed the last on the pile and the last piece needed the first. This whole time, what on the surface appears to be confusion turns out to be a tightly orchestrated plan.
So what does this mean for our homeowners, you might be asking. The answer is pretty simple – quality. It’s an overused word in this business, but at Maronda it really means something. The wood we use is kept indoors because our plant is so efficient in cycles through its supply in 30 days. This means there’s no need to store large quantities of it outside where it would be exposed to ice, rain, and snow. The framing of the home is protected from the elements all throughout construction, since it goes from foundation to framing in a little over five hours. A roof is over our homes skeleton at all times. And the frame sections themselves are all quality checked not only by human and mechanical devices, but also by laser-guided machinery that helps assure the plumb and finish of every board in the home. That’s quality that a new home in Pittsburgh needs, and it’s quality that we strive to deliver.