Now that people are finally living in homes built by its robot on the outskirts of Perth, bricklaying technology company FBR (ASX: FBR) has today laid the foundations for a potential global roll-out through a partnership with Germany's Liebherr-Mischtechnik GmbH.
The manufacturer and supplier of concrete mixing, batching and pumping systems has entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with FBR, aiming to cooperate on industrialising and commercialising the next generation Hadrian X automated bricklaying robot for the global construction market.
FBR has previously had two joint venture deals with Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) and Brickworks (ASX: BKW) fall through, but today the WA-based outfit has more achievements in the mix as well as cash following a successful $10 million capital raise and securing a $2 million debt facility with a subsidiary of alternative asset manager FC Capital.
Late last year the company entered a deal to supply its Wall as a Service (WaaS) technology to GP Vivienda in Mexico for up to 5,000 homes, which was soon followed by the commencement of its largest project to date to build the walls of 16 townhouses for prominent Western Australian builder Inspired Homes in Willagee, Perth.
Two weeks later at the group's annual general meeting (AGM), managing director Mike Pivac highlighted five structures that had been built using the technology in suburban environments.
"Dayton (WA) was our first project outside of the confines of our facilities, and we couldn’t be happier with how it went as a first effort," Pivac told shareholders.
"This was the first display home built by an end-to-end autonomous bricklaying robot anywhere in the world, and that home is now being lived in, with the sale settled in July 2021.
"Byford (WA) followed shortly after Dayton, and was the first time we had built double leaf cavity walls with the Hadrian X. That structure is now being tenanted by a real estate company."
At the time he mentioned FBR was pursuing global opportunities "on a number of fronts", although they could not be discussed yet due to commercial sensitivities.
Today the company has given an indication of where FBR might be heading, with the non-binding MoU comprising two phases.
The first involves developing the Hadrian X robot further to ensure it can have a reliable, continuous operation in tough job site conditions throughout its economic life, and for manufacturing at the scale and cost necessary for serial production and full commercialisation.
That phase is expected to take two years, and will be followed by Phase 2 which would require the signing of a long-term manufacturing and commercialisation agreement under which Liebherr-Mischtechnik GmbH - a subsidiary of Swiss multinational Liebherr International Group - as the exclusive manufacturer of the robots, alongside clauses covering joint commercialisation activities and intellectual property licensing.
The deal precludes the Liebherr Group from working on or with any other companies to develop or commercialise automated brick or block laying technologies, while within the MoU's two-year period FBR cannot enter into agreements of its own for any other exclusive original equipment manufacturing (OEM) or distribution partner.
"We are pleased to be working with LiebherrMischtechnik GmbH on the industrialisation and global commercialisation of the Hadrian X," Pivac said today.
"Liebherr and FBR share a vision of significantly increasing the safety, sustainability and efficiency of the construction industry. Both companies recognise that the digitalisation and automation of processes on the job site are the key enablers for realising this vision," he said.
"The cooperation with Liebherr-Mischtechnik GmbH is a significant step toward commercialisation for FBR and recognises the strong relationship we have built with the Liebherr team over the past year of technical and commercial collaboration and knowledge exchange."
Liebherr's statement included slightly less exaltation.
"Liebherr is unique in manufacturing equipment for all phases of construction; from earthmoving and deep foundation drilling, to manufacturing and transportation of concrete, as well as diverse lifting solutions," the group stated.
"We are continuously investigating new and innovative technologies to ensure our customers’ success on the job-site now and in the future."
In November FBR also completed the construction of its first house structure with Wienerberger Porotherm clay blocks in an outdoor environment. Management had previously planned to deploy Hadrian X in Europe to complete a pilot program with Weinerberger, but global constraints due to COVID prompted a decision to conduct that program in Australia instead and deploy in Europe "when conditions have improved such that it makes sense to do so".
In the December half the company reported a loss of more than $9 million, which was significantly worse than the $3.6 million loss in 1H21, although this time round FBR actually had genuine project-based revenue to speak of at $537,017.
FBR shares rose 8.57 per cent this morning to 3.8 cents each, which is still well off the 5-cent yearly highs that followed a string of positive announcements, and is even lower than the 4.5 cents a share in the recent capital raise. In August 2017 FBR shares were worth more than six times what they are trading at today.
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