The construction industry has consistently experimented with the use of robots to increase the pace of construction and to solve skills shortage in the industry. What does this really mean?
With the refusal of millennials to become interested in construction and the demand of more efficient and productive work output, there is never a better time to seek for a lasting solution to the issue of construction productivity and profitability.
Can construction be automated like the manufacturing and retail industries?
Stakeholders in the construction industry have long been looking for a way to completely automate most of the construction processes to meet strict quality requirements. With the successful implementation of autonomous operations in other industries such as manufacturing, retail, information and technology, and so on, the AEC industry is looking to do the same.
Positive results from tests and trials show that construction can be automated.
With the feedback obtained from successful trials of robots in some construction tasks, there have been some positive steps taken to automate major construction processes fully. With this said, the robots are looking to transform the construction industry. Construction is among the sectors with the least amount of digitized processes as well as one of the least automated industries globally. Because of this robotics and automation are often seen as an answer and a lasting solution to most quality issues being faced by construction companies.
Construction companies lack adequate staff, and our projects go over budget – Can the robots help us?
Construction is generally rated as an industry that is roughly worth $10 trillion. However, it is afflicted with inefficiency. In the USA, there are almost 200,000 positions in construction that is yet to be filled. Additionally, about 98% of big construction projects go over the budget.
With inefficient processes, the possibility to save from productivity gains, plus extensive shortages of skilled labour – the AEC industry is entirely due for automation. And present applications of robots in certain parts of the industry show that our robotic friends are here to help us achieve profitability.
Some current use of robots in construction
As at today, most construction processes are primarily performed manually. However, there have been quite some fantastic innovations in existence.
For instance, Auto manufacturing giants, Komatsu has just produced a versatile drone system and an independent bulldozer automatic system. The drone is primarily flown above construction and infrastructure sites, and would be used primarily for monitoring work performance, assessing materials in the inventory as well as recording project progress. Additionally, the drone would be used to produce 3D maps that will provide several details of the features of the infrastructure. This is then converted into live feeds and sent to the appropriate site personnel for important documentation.
Furthermore, the drone can also be used to assign job tasks to any receiving compatible machinery like the unmanned bulldozer – this work assignment comes with quality and schedule objectives, which the unmanned bulldozer is able to achieve without any human interference.
Robotics enhance the safety workers in construction
By nature, infrastructure construction is a risky and dangerous venture. Robots could improve the safety of workers in construction environments through performing some of the hazardous project tasks while allowing humans, to focus more on project tasks which involve critical thinking.
Cut back on operational costs with robots in charge of your infrastructures
In an industry with a value of $10 trillion, little differences in the operating expenses achieved by using robots can easily mean that you saved a lot of money. With the use of robots, there will undoubtedly be fewer incidents in the workplace. Thus, this results in reduced cost of operation, which would ultimately save lots of money for construction companies on a long-term basis.
The construction industry is ripe for automation
Currently, the state of affairs in construction globally is the same in all continents. We all fight for productivity to achieve profitability. There need to be an improvement in productivity. Additionally, shortages in skilled labour will have to be addressed. Advanced systems as well as robots are critical elements to finding a lasting solution to several of these problems, while simultaneously ensuring that we work in a safer construction industry.
Five significant ways that robotics is being used to enhance processes in the construction industry
Before now, the construction industry had been the least automated and digitalized industry across the world. A handful of our processes were being executed and managed by mechanical robots who performed small roles in the preparation of materials for construction and not the construction itself. However, this is about to change. In construction, numerous processes can be done in a more efficient manner using suitable construction robots, primarily because most tasks on a construction site are repetitive.
Whereas the presence of manual site labour such as masons, carpenters, local suppliers will always be a significant part of modern construction, the use of technology to complement these roles have been improving steadily. Drones, robots, autonomous vehicles, exoskeletons as well as 3D printing are being used to get more tasks completed in lesser time and with improved quality. With low skilled construction workers, automation is a primary alternative to closing the skills gap and for sustaining profitability.
According to an analyst from a construction researching company, construction robots can be used to perform specific tasks like lifting of heavy material, industrial brick laying, loading of materials, painting, sorting of reinforcement bars, extensive earthworks, concrete batching and mixing, transportation of general materials, and pouring of concrete. The analyst went further by saying that orders have been placed for hundreds of autonomous construction robots and that supply would be within the next two years. The robots are meant to perform haulage functions. In addition to their enhanced functionality, construction robots will be used in a practical manner to protect site workers from working in a hazardous environment, minimize the number of injuries in the workplace while simultaneously addressing shortages in skilled labour.
These construction robots depend on artificial intelligence in addition to machine learning to provide high levels of data-driven site support. For example, a driverless construction crane can be used to transport construction materials all over the site. Alternatively, an aerial drone can be used to collect useful data from different areas of the worksite to be used in the analysis of project progress.
The following are a few ways which construction is used to transform basic construction processes
1). A brick laying robots to speed up the process.
The Hadrian X bricklaying robotic machine is an excellent example of how robots are being used to revolutionize the construction industry. Hadrian X is being made by Australia-based Fast brick Robotics, also known as FBR Limited. The robot uses an intelligent control system – which is assisted by CAD – to estimate the materials needed as well as the necessary movements involved in bricklaying. Hadrian X can be used effectively in laying bricks in small, medium and huge infrastructure projects. It can be used to drastically shorten the time taken for the entire brick laying process of a project.
Additionally, Hadrian is also used to measure changes in the environment, like movements caused by the wind or vibrations, instantaneously, as they happen. Data obtained is then used to enhance precision and accuracy during the construction process.
Robots such as Hadrian as well as SAM100 which is from Construction Robotics based in Victor, New York are assuring major decision-makers in construction and engineering companies that they are capable of reducing their costs of operation as well as construction wastes towards maximizing savings. Furthermore, they are capable of providing a safer project work environment while improving productivity. Hadrian is capable of building the walls of a full modern house in just one day, which of course is certainly faster than current construction methods.
2). Unmanned construction vehicles and other independent vehicles are already being used in construction.
Whereas the most prominent car manufacturers and technology companies are trying to create self-driving cars, unmanned vehicles or independent vehicles are being used in construction already. This equipment can be used to transport construction supplies and materials. For example, Volvo had been working on the development of its HX2, which is an autonomous and electric-driven load carrier which can be applied in the movement of loads without any further human input. The HX2 comes without any driver cab and instead, makes use of the digital logistics-powered control technology which is supported by what is known as the “vision system” that helps it to detect obstacles and humans during movement.
A different company called Built Robotics, which was able to raise a total of $33 million, produces self-driving excavators and bulldozers. The machines make use of artificial intelligence guidance systems which directs the machines to their required destinations and confirms that all necessary tasks are completed accurately and safely.
3). Drones and Robots are currently being used to independently scan over the site.
Drones and robots that are used in construction make use of sensors like Lidar, which in addition to GPS technologies can provide important data about a construction site. In addition to AI, it is capable of predicting the tasks that are needed.
A company Doxel Inc. produces a little tread-based mobile robot which is practically used on a construction site to assess the progress of a particular construction site. It does this by scanning the project while traversing the site. The information collected by the little robot is used in the detection of possible errors as well as problems early on before they become significant issues
4). Robots are being used to complement the effort of site workers.
Humans are still practically useful in the use of robots and autonomous machines in the construction, therefore, it is not right to say that the robots are here to take our jobs. The strength of regular human supervision can be combined with multiple technologies to enhance efficiency. For example, painting drones have been used to demonstrate the collaboration between humans and robots. The painting drones are controlled through smartphones or tablets through an app, and they are capable of reporting the data that they collect, which is analyzed using cloud technology.
The remote-controlled technology is also used in semi-autonomous vehicles. Project Managers can apply this technology in delivering working instructions as well as orders to their site workers instantly.
5). Robots and other independent machines are being used to scan over a site.
Before construction, during construction as well as after construction, it is important that we perform a constant survey of the site and the surrounding environment. A certain level of surveillance is also required for the supervision of workers and site security.
Additionally, Project Managers, as well as the supervisors, can still walk through the site to carry out final inspections. The use of construction robotics and drones can hugely be of immense help to these processes.
Aerial drones and ground-based robots are capable of surveying a construction worksite and collect several types of construction data, depending on the type of sensors that are used. The use of Virtual reality and Augmented reality can be used by operators to get a realistic and instantaneous view of whatever the drones are seeing.
Efficiency leads to productivity, while productivity yields profit. Are robots and automated processes the answer to profitability in construction? It is a good question, but the future certainly looks promising.