The construction industry is one of the least automated industries that feature manual-intensive labor as a primary source of productivity. Whether it’s new commercial construction, renovation or demolition, robots don’t yet play a significant role in any step of a building’s lifecycle. There are several new robots under development and in the early stages of deployment that could change this, however. As a highly unautomated industry, construction is poised for a robot revolution.
Construction Robots Only Now Realizing Commercial Potential
It may seem odd that the construction industry utilizes so few robots, but there’s a good reason for this: construction tasks are notoriously difficult to automate. The construction worksite is the primary obstacle to robotic automation.
Robots excel at repetitive tasks in a controlled environment. Construction sites could not be more opposite. Robots need to be able to adapt to real-time variability in their environment with little to no reprogramming in order to be profitable and productive. This is difficult for robots to do, but a few different construction robots are taking on these historically challenging tasks.
Types of Construction Robots
There are a few different types of construction robots that are poised to break into the construction market at a mass scale. First is a 3D-printing robot that can build large buildings on demand. A mobile robotic arm controls a 3D-printer, and with a set of preprogrammed instructions, this system 3D prints an entire structurally-safe building.
This technology is also beginning to be used for building bridges, with the first ever 3D printed bridge recently being built in the Netherlands. This combination of 3D printing and industrial robots is some of the most promising automation technology in the construction industry.
There are also construction robots for brick-laying and masonry, and even robots that lay an entire street at one time. These types of robots dramatically improve the speed and quality of construction work.
Demolition robots are another type of construction robot that’s about to break into mainstream applications. While they’re slower than demolition crews, they’re far safer and cheaper when it comes to demolishing concrete and structural components of a building at the end of its lifecycle.
There are several other types of construction robots, such as remote controlled or autonomous vehicles, but the few mentioned above are the most prepared to function in a current construction site and may be the most impactful.
As a highly unautomated industry, construction robots will have a major impact on the construction industry. As construction companies look to automate more and more tasks for the sake of efficiency and productivity, demand for construction robots will grow steadily.
The Advantages of Robotics in Construction
Adding robots to the mix on any construction job site may seem out of place, given the countless hazards that lurk on nearly all projects. However, giving machines the ability to function on their own, without the need for human interaction, actually has the potential to improve safety for all workers. Robotics in construction is currently being used for self-operating machinery, including bulldozers, excavators, and cranes, but the implications for such technology are far-reaching. When construction workers are taken out of the role of completing the mundane tasks now managed by robots, they can use their time to do more skilled work. This bolsters efficiencies and timeline management for most construction job sites.
In addition to autonomously completing tasks, robotics in construction may also influence the level of safety construction workers experience. Ekso Bionics, another California-based technology firm, has been developing wearable robotics for construction industry professionals for the past few years. Enhancements like exoskeletons that help improve mobility for contractors and robotic arms to reduce the impact of repetitive tasks on the job are being used at many job sites currently. These additions to construction projects pave the way for a safer job site, increased productivity, and a reduction in the time it takes to complete a job. The combination of the benefits robotics is adding to the industry ultimately lead to lower operations costs, from surety bond pricing to insurance expenses.
What it Means for Construction Workers
Adding technology like robotics to the construction industry has been met with some hesitation, mostly from industry professionals who have spent countless hours to get licensed and bonded, create and nurture professional relationships, and stay up to date on safety and building standards. However, technology and construction industry experts agree that while the trends moving toward digitization of the field has the potential to take away some low-level positions, it will be several years before robotics in construction is the norm. Instead, a slow and steady introduction of new technology in the industry is more likely.
Construction workers who are fearful of tech-infused solutions taking away jobs should rest assured that human skill will not be replaced by automated machines. Several tasks cannot be completed accurately or more efficiently by a robot, and project management is not a role that can be replaced by technology. The benefits robotics brings to the construction industry are evolving every day while being embraced on a wider scale, but construction workers are not out of a job because of it.