Robotics and automation have made headlines in recent years, especially in the construction sector with some tremendous advancements. While robotics in construction may be deemed a game-changer, the technology has not yet exceeded expectations but it is promising nonetheless. Without creating too much hype, here’s a measured look at the capabilities and benefits of robotics in construction.
Types Of Robotics In Construction
Construction robots are machines that help with construction projects of all shapes and sizes. From driverless vehicles and drones to humanoid labourers, there are various robots already in use by the construction sector.
Industrial robots in manufacturing are likely the best-known and as construction technology continues to advance, the industry is increasingly relying on robotics to perform repetitive high-value tasks.
The three most common applications for industrial robots are Articulated Robots, 3D printing with Cartesian Robots and Collaborative robots or cobots. With labour shortage a continuous issue in the construction industry, cobots may be able to ease the burden. And while there are fears of robots taking over human jobs, they are more like going to upgrade jobs rather than steal them.
Using Drones In Construction
As the construction industry continues to grow with more innovations across the board, the use of drones has boomed. Companies are using drones in construction for various purposes, such as 3-D mapping, remotely monitoring and inspecting sites and maintaining security.
Drones are used to produce a detailed aerial map of the worksite that can be turned into a 3-D model. This allows contractors to point out and plan for potential challenges allowing them to provide a more accurate budget estimate.
Companies also use drones to remotely monitor and inspect worksites; a job previously done by renting a boom lift or large cranes that also required more than one person to operate. Security is another important task drones can help with as a single operator can fly the drone and take an aerial view of everything.
Autonomous Construction Vehicles
Most people should be familiar with self-driving cars such as Tesla’s autopilot feature but what about autonomous construction vehicles?
The truth is, the construction industry has already been using autonomous construction equipment for some time. Built Robotics is a company currently working on upgrading standard heavy construction vehicles equipment with AI guidance systems. Currently, their line-up of autonomous construction vehicles includes bulldozers, excavators and CTL’s.
The main benefit of these vehicles is improving safety on road construction as working on a street with traffic is extremely dangerous. Even the best road construction safety plan can’t negate the probability of human error. With autonomous construction vehicles, human error can be greatly reduced.
Humanoid Robotics In Construction
One of the standout humanoid robots performing similar tasks to humans is the HRP-5P. Developed by Japan’s Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, this humanoid robot uses a combination of environment detection and object recognition technology to perform various tasks.
While it can’t perform every task, the HRP-5P can use power tools and install drywall sheets completely autonomously. As good as this humanoid might be, the need for human labourers is still necessary even as robotics in construction continues to develop.
Benefits Of Robotics In Construction
With construction being a labour-intensive sector, robotics has proved extremely effective in other industries so why not construction? Here’s a closer look at some of the main benefits of using robotics in construction.
- Help solve the skills shortage in construction
- Increase the speed of construction projects by implementing off-site production (modular construction)
- Create more efficient sites automating tasks such as bricklaying, steel-truss assembly, welding, installation, painting and concrete laying
- Provide a safer work environment by reducing the risk of injury when human labourers perform dangerous tasks in extreme environments
Disadvantages Of Robotics In Construction
While individual robotic projects can make a significant difference, productivity gains are only possible through systematic change. Construction robots can’t yet truly think for themselves and still need detailed plans to be deployed. As positive as robotics in construction may be, there are some downsides, including the following:
- The complexity of construction processes makes it tough for robots to work in that kind of unstructured and changing environment
- User resistance with many construction workers having some concerns
- Limitations of current technology such as battery life restrictions, potential health and safety risks, navigating outdoor and rugged environments, complex operation requirements, training and costs
The State Of Robotics In Construction
According to McKinsey, 15-20% of new building construction will be modular by 2030. It may be a slow implementation process with many activities remaining on-site for some time but it is a monumental shift nonetheless. It’s believed that robotics in construction will only grow in deployment due to the efficiency and cost-savings aspect it brings to the industry.
Considering project managers and supervisors must conduct regular inspections, 3D point cloud models created by construction robotics and drones can help speed up the process, especially when aligned with BIM-enabled planning.
The number of construction jobs is expected to increase with up to 200 million additional jobs by 2030. By automating more construction processes, companies will be able to deliver infrastructure and buildings faster without reducing staff numbers. Robots will help minimise skill-shortage problems and will not replace humans but rather create demand for new types of skilled workers.
Advancements in technology are all about improvement and not about replacing the human workforce. Since construction is one of the most dangerous industries in the world, robots can help improve work efficiency and safety. The goal is to improve the industry as construction robots are designed to assist and adapt.
It’s clear that successful implementation of robotics in construction will not happen overnight and that whilst there are many benefits, one cannot ignore the few drawbacks. It’s highly unlikely that robots and automation will replace the human workforce but they will certainly change the roles and expand possibilities.
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