November 06, 2020

Remote Worker Insight: Steve Pierz

As Chief Innovation Officer at FBR, Steve Pierz is leading in the vastly expanding world of technology and, of course, innovation. FBR is a robotic innovation company that works to meet the needs of the global climate. Their largest focus is on digital construction and their development of the Hadrian X is changing the future of construction. The robotic machine can lay bricks at a rate of 200 per hour while the human rate is 180 per day. FBR is based in Perth, Australia, and as they break the limits of traditional construction by deploying novel technologies, Steve Pierz works with them, all from his Peoria based home. 

For 29 years, Pierz worked at Caterpillar, with the last 6 being in the area of innovation. After leaving Caterpillar, he began consulting with FBR before eventually becoming part of the team and taking his place as Chief Innovation Officer. 

According to Pierz, approximately 1.30 trillion bricks are laid each year by hand. To say that the market is vast would be, well, an understatement. The robots that FBR and Pierz are developing not only provide a much quicker way to lay bricks, but a stronger way. Instead of using mortar to seal the joints, which is three to five times weaker than the cement block, they developed an adhesive which now makes the joint even stronger than the block itself. Pierz says, “Masonry hasn’t changed in 5,000 years. If you look at farming, we farm much differently than we did 100 years ago. The way we make things, using robots and computers, is different. Construction is the only thing you can take a picture of and it would look the same as it did 100 years ago.” 

Now, the work of the Hadrian X automates the dull, dirty and dangerous portion of the construction work, laying the block walls that get covered by stucco.  Pierz believes that it is a “and,” not an “or” situation with construction robotics. It will allow humans to do the creative and complex stone and brick masonry while the robots will be doing the block work. Moreover, there is a shortage of masons while construction is growing internationally. Pierz says that we will need robotics and automation to improve productivity, as manufacturing did 40 years ago. 

Caterpillar brought Pierz and his wife to Peoria thirty years ago. Before that, as fresh graduates from Southern Illinois University, they found work in Chicago. Soon, Caterpillar found Pierz’s resume and sent him an application. Both of them got jobs there and moved to Peoria. This area is where they’ve put down roots and made a home for themselves. Working remotely means he doesn’t have to move and he can keep the quality of life he’s built. 

One of the challenges that come with working remotely, Pierz mentioned, was not being able to build trust that comes with in person contact. Still, through concerted efforts on the part of Pierz and FBR, mutual trust was built. Working remotely ensures that Pierz is not encumbered with the day to day issues that come with being a start up. Here in Peoria, he can focus on his passion for innovation. 

To remote workers considering the area from larger cities, Pierz would highlight the fact that just about everything is 20 minutes away. Growing up in the South Suburbs of Chicago, Pierz’s father would, on a good day, drive an hour one way to his job. On a bad day, it would take him two. But here in the Greater Peoria area, it takes only twenty minutes to get to the outlying towns like Morton, East Peoria, and more. What this comes down to is more hours in the day and considerably less stress. Pierz describes being able to use this time to focus on family or enjoy the extensive parks in the area.

Another testament to the quality of life Pierz has been able to find in the area is found in his home. He lives in a beautiful, historic home on the bluff overlooking Peoria. To find a house like that in a large metropolitan area would be near impossible and if you could, it would be considerably more expensive. According to Pierz, from a culture standpoint, Peoria has much to offer. Being conveniently located within a couple hours of St. Louis, Indy and Chicago, means Pierz and his wife can make it to a matinee performance in Chicago’s Theater District, have a nice dinner, and make it home without getting stuck in the rush hour traffic. Peoria’s wonderful neighborhoods, parks, outdoor activities, coupled with the Civic Center’s many offerings, have made Peoria a wonderful home to Pierz and his family. Ultimately, Peoria has the capability to provide amazing opportunities to businesses and people from all over.