Robots and Building Automation

When we speak about advances in technology, robots are one of the few things that come first in our mind. There is no question that automation will change the way people work, but for some sectors of the economy, change is long overdue. And one of these sectors is construction.

For an industry with nearly $10 trillion in annual revenue — about 6 percent of global GDP — its performance is not great. Worldwide, the average big construction project takes 20 percent longer to complete than planned and runs a staggering 80 percent over budget. Although most sectors of the construction industry — single-family residential construction; multi-family residential construction; highway, road, and bridge construction; and industrial construction — have improved over the past few decades (for example, the 2006–16 rate of productivity growth was 5.3 percent in industrial construction), productivity could be growing faster, making the construction industry much more efficient. There are many factors contributing to the low efficiency of the construction industry; these include low capital investment compared with other sectors, hazardous site conditions, project complexity, economic disruption, lack of trans­parency, and corruption. One of the biggest impediments, however, is a shortage of skilled workers.

Until recently, the construction industry still relied on many manual labor processes, which serve as the basis for a larger series of tasks or operations. Many feel the efficiency and productivity of the industry has yet to meet its true potential. In addition, nearly 200,000 construction jobs were left unfulfilled by February 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There’s no growth, and there’s a huge demand for potential workers. It’s the perfect storm for a robotics disruption.

Here are a few ways that modern and advanced robotics will disrupt construction throughout the coming year:

One of the uses of robotics is to allow for greater automation in various processes. In many aspects of construction, specifically manufacturing, packing and building, automating these processes is becoming the goal. With greater development in robotics and machinery, construction companies are becoming more open to utilizing technology. With robotic technology, you can expect traditional construction activities like welding, material handling, packing, dispensing, cutting and packing to be fully automated. This will not only allow for precision and accuracy throughout all construction processes, it represents a significant time and financial savings as well.

One of the biggest and most important movements in construction is lean construction. This contemporary ideology aims to increase efficiency and productivity, often centered on the elimination of waste. Traditional construction practices produce an inordinate amount of waste, which is not only bad for the environment, but significantly affects profitability. Robotic technology however can help reduce the amount of waste created because of its ability to ensure accuracy and precision. An investment in this technology, like 3D printers for example, may be a daunting task for many businesses. In the long run however, reduced waste and standardized materials will positively impact profitability.

With most robotic systems completely automated, manufacturing parts and materials will be much more consistent, with a higher quality. By removing human error and inconsistency, these machines can take advantage of speed, efficiency and repeatability to ensure better overall quality.

The introduction of 3D printing is continuing to grow in the construction industry. Now it is possible to print complex, layered, parts and objects that can be used in the construction of homes, buildings, bridges and roads. In Addition, robotic machines can standardize the production of pieces that can be used throughout various projects, saving both time and money.

One of the earliest uses of robotics in construction has been demolition. Considering the number of construction projects currently in place, speeding up the demolition process can provide a large saving of time and money. Breaking down walls, crushing concrete, and gathering all debris is the first step in many construction processes, and robotics is making these processes much more efficient.

Humans are still in the loop for much of construction robotics, combining the strengths of human supervision with multiple technologies. The Internet of Things, additive manufacturing, and digitization are contributing to the industry’s growth. Painting drones are an excellent example, since they can be controlled via tablet or smartphone via an app, and they can report on the data they gather that’s analyzed in the cloud. Remote-control technology can also be applied to semi-autonomous vehicles. Project managers can use it to deliver instructions and orders to their workforce instantly.

Before, during, and after a construction project, many assessments require the review of a worksite and surrounding area. Limited surveillance is also necessary for supervising workers and securing the site. In addition, project managers and supervisors must walk the site to conduct final inspections. Construction robotics and drones can help all of these processes.

Aerial drones and ground-based robots can survey a worksite and gather multiple types of data, depending on the sensors used. Augmented reality and virtual reality can enable operators to get a realistic and real-time feel for what the drones are seeing. While donning a VR headset, for instance, viewers can see a live feed of captured video from the drone. More importantly, that immersive experience is provided remotely, so project managers don’t even have to be on the job site to get an accurate assessment. The video feed is also recorded for playback at a later time, providing yet another resource.

Change is definitely coming, no matter how slowly. With all the advancements in technology, the construction industry is bound to adopt them. We hope that in the coming years this high revenue generating industry will live up to its potential and adapt with the changes



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