By 2019, many industries have embraced the time and cost saving benefits of automation and robotics, but the unique spatial challenges and adaptive nature of the construction industry means that it has not yet caught up to the robot workplace revolution. This may soon change though as industry experts say that the construction field is poised for a robotic takeover.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, almost 200, 000 construction jobs were left unfulfilled and the McKinsey report estimated that on average 98 percent of construction projects go over time and over budget. These labour and efficiency issues mean that year over year productivity growth for the construction industry has stalled significantly. In fact, the ten year analysis of the industry growth from 2005-2015 shows a 1.5% decrease in productivity for the construction industry. As a result, any added efficiency that can save time and labour costs on construction sites may potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars. Below is a list of some of the exciting new ways that robotics are changing the construction industry from beginning to end:
1. Scouting with drones
While drones have been making an impact commercially in leisure activities, their benefits as an industrial tool are only just being discovered. Scouting construction sites that span large areas, tall buildings, or deep quarries used to take days of strenuous GPS work, but this can now be done in a matter of hours by a single pilot.
On site 3D printing robots can provide quick, on-demand, and adaptable prefabricated parts that will reduce or even eliminate the need for transporting various building materials. Should there be an issue with the size or shape of a component, a 3D printing robot could be tweaked to immediately print a new part instead of stalling the entire operation to order to correct fit.
Companies like Ekso Bionics are working to augment human abilities via robotics with exoskeletons that increase worker mobility and strength. Moreover, this may drastically reduce the potential for work-related injuries on both a short term and long term chronic scale. For example, the EksoVest fits on a worker’s upper body to support the arms in an elevated position when accomplishing overhead projects. Not only does this reduce the potential for injury and chronic pain, it also allows the worker to more effectively focus on their craftsmanship.
4. Repetitive work
While construction sites require creative problem solving and adaptability, there is still a significant amount of repetitive, time consuming labour, such as with brick laying. Companies like New York based Construction Robotics are tackling these kinds of common repetitive tasks with robots like SAM100, which can lay 2, 000 bricks per day in comparison to the average of 400 bricks per day per skilled mason.
Most demolition robots are currently slower than human demolition crews, but they have the benefit of cheaper cost and vastly reducing safety concerns. Considering the rate of injuries within the construction industry, this is an added layer of security for both companies and workers.
Construction sites can never fully be automated by robots, as the industry will always be reliant on humans to make quick judgements, adapt to environmental changes, and inject creativity and artistry into the works that they build. However, humans working alongside robots will drastically reduce time, costs, and risk of injuries in almost every part of the construction lifecycle. The construction industry is primed in the next few decades to begin building better, faster, and smarter with robotics.