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The construction industry is like many others in that it has evolved. That means professionals use new materials, building techniques and technologies to get the desired results. Significant progress has occurred due to the increasing use of robots in construction.
These feature-filled machines can perceive their environments and react accordingly, assisting humans with various tasks that typically require heavy labour. Here are some details about how people can use construction robots to achieve impressive outcomes.
Reduced Labour Shortages
A model developed by Associated Builders and Contractors suggests the construction industry must hire approximately 546,000 workers on top of normal hiring for 2023. However, doing that isn’t as easy as it might seem.
Some people who will enter the labour market soon or are looking for work now view construction as a path to strenuous, dirty work. Thus, many would rather look for office or tech-based jobs. However, some may like the idea of working with robots in construction — provided they know that option exists.
Many older workers are also leaving the construction industry due to reaching retirement age. They have a collective wealth of knowledge from which younger, incoming workers could benefit. However, that knowledge transfer doesn’t happen immediately. Robots in construction won’t be the sole solution to these issues and related ones, but they could ease the challenges.
What Might the Coming Years Bring?
Matthew Johnson-Roberson is the director of the robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He says many existing construction jobs will soon get carried out alongside robots. But Johnson-Roberson envisions a future where companies and site managers will be strategic about which tasks robots handle.
More specifically, you shouldn’t expect armies of human-like robots to arrive on construction sites and hammer nails into pieces of wood. Instead, it’s more likely that tech representatives will develop solutions for the more substantial tasks that typically require several humans to do. Options include site surveys, digging holes and pouring concrete.
Akzo Nobel — who owns the paint brand Dulux — spoke of the business’s investment in a French startup working on a painting robot. It can coat large surfaces with spray paint via a primarily automated process. When Dulux polled industry members in the United Kingdom, 61% of respondents reported having trouble finding enough workers to do painting and decorating tasks. That’s an example of a problem the robot could help solve.
However, it still has limitations over human painters. For example, the machine can only paint things approximately 11 feet off the ground and must stay flat when operating. Robots might never equal or surpass what humans can do across all construction tasks. However, looking toward a future where people and construction robots work together more commonly to get things done faster is essential.
Lower Injury Rates
The construction industry is full of inherent dangers, even when people receive the appropriate training and certifications. One best practice is establishing a safety culture where all workers realize their vital role in keeping themselves and others safe.
It’ll also help if the worker shortage becomes less severe. Despite the current labour shortage, statistics indicate construction will have the largest employment increase by 2024 compared to other sectors. That’s great because people are more likely to get hurt or not follow the rules if they have overly heavy workloads, or feel continually rushed and under pressure.
Robots in construction will also be instrumental in keeping people safe from injuries. Consider a recent partnership between Hilti and Canvas. Canvas has a drywall robot that telescopes to work up to 15-and-a-half feet from the ground. It also captures 99.9% of the dust caused by sanding. People at the company decided to focus on drywall finishing after seeing studies about the high rate of musculoskeletal disorders suffered by workers who do it.
Hilti also has a robot that could reduce strain. The Jaibot handles overhead drilling tasks up to 16.5 feet off the ground. It’s similar to what Canvas offers in that it also has a dust-collection system. Plus, overhead work can put workers’ bodies under additional stress and strain.
The Jaibot is a semi-autonomous system, so it still requires input from one human operator. However, the person does not have to do the work that can be hard on the body and cause repetitive motion injuries. The robot also integrates with BIM data, ensuring it puts the correct holes in the proper places. BIM and robots in construction are part of the emerging trend of digitalizing construction.
As the construction labour shortage continues to be problematic, many crews find themselves in time crunches to finish projects on time. That’s already a difficult task when there aren’t enough workers to do the job well.
However, research and real-life examples strongly support using robots in construction. Consider the case of a robotic site printer being tested while constructing two residential high-rises in London. It can get concrete deck layouts done 10 times faster than traditional means.
In another case, Built Robotics developed the world’s first fully autonomous solar piling system. It can do utility-scale solar foundations five times faster than conventional options. Representatives said this achievement is instrumental in allowing nations to progress toward net-zero energy goals.
A Purdue University team also combined mechanical and computer vision innovations while developing a new robotic system for construction. They realized a robot working on a site would need much more sensing and reasoning capabilities than one built for a manufacturing environment. That’s because construction areas typically have more unknown factors. However, the group believes what they created will get buildings done in less time, with higher quality and lower costs.
Elsewhere, researchers at the University of Michigan made substantial path-planning improvements for robots used on rough terrain — including those tasked with construction work or to aid recovery after natural disasters. The team developed an algorithm that let robots find the best paths three times faster while requiring less time for processing.
Using Robots in Construction Improves Results
These are some of the many ways decisions to deploy robots in construction can give people impressive outcomes that make them eager to keep embracing technology. As more research occurs about feasible ways to utilize these machines, you’ll see them more frequently on worksites.