Revolutionizing construction: The power of robotics in construction

October 4, 2023
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Construction robotics explained

Robotics is a field of engineering that blends computer science with mechanical and electrical engineering. Now, it's finally making its way into the construction industry, bringing along some exciting innovations and new opportunities.

Construction has always been known as one of the most physically demanding and time-consuming industries. But thanks to robotics and automation, things are changing for the better. Construction robotics are here to speed up tasks and reduce human errors and fatigue-related setbacks.

For example, think about heavy construction equipment like bulldozers and trucks. With robotics, we can supercharge them with intelligence. They can perform tasks such as concrete work, demolition, hauling, lifting, and digging with speed and precision.

How robotics is changing the Construction industry

The world is changing fast, and automation is at the heart of it. Robots and computers have already proven their ability to perform multiple tasks faster, safer, and cheaper than humans.

Even though the construction industry isn't exactly known for automation, there are already a variety of robots out there designed to lend a hand to construction professionals.

Looking ahead, the next decade promises to bring a wave of innovation in construction automation and robots. This could completely transform how we do business not only in construction but also in architecture and engineering.

But the major question probably on your mind - and just about everyone else's - is "Are these robots going to replace hardworking humans?". It's not a simple answer.

Technology isn't about replacing people; it's about making their jobs easier and better. Take safety, for example, which is a big deal in construction. When robots step up, we can remove the potential danger of certain tasks for humans completely.

While robots can handle some special tasks, they're not here to take over completely. In an industry like construction, we still need the human touch.

Naturally, as robotic technology becomes more integrated into construction, the landscape of work will change. Robots and humans bring different strengths to the table. They're both essential, just in different ways.

Construction professionals will continue to handle the creative and intricate aspects of projects, while robots will excel at handling more extensive, time-consuming tasks. This collaboration could ultimately lead to significant profits for the construction business.

So, while the future is not entirely clear, it is clear that robotics are going to make an impact and change how we do construction.

The different types of Construction robots at work

Now that we understand how robots are becoming key team members in the construction industry, let's take a look at the types being used.

Construction robots come in various types, each with their own capabilities and purpose. We can categorize these robots into three main groups: semi-autonomous, fully autonomous, and teleoperated robots.

  1. Semi-autonomous robots: These robots need some initial human input, after which they can handle tasks independently. For example, a semi-autonomous bricklaying robot can lay bricks at impressive speeds while human workers supervise and manage other aspects of the job.
  2. Fully autonomous robots: These robots are completely independent, requiring no human help. They follow a predefined set of instructions or patterns, use sensors for guidance, and prioritize safety as they work.
  3. Teleoperated robots: These robots assist humans in a variety of tasks from a distance. Unlike Autonomous robots, teleoperated machines rely on some degree of human interaction to function.

Within these three categories, there are four main types of Construction robots. From self-driving trucks to actual humanoid laborers, there are a variety of machines that assist in construction.

1. Industrial robots

Industrial robots are no strangers to manufacturing, and they're now gaining ground in construction. These robots can impressively handle repetitive yet high-value tasks in the industry. Three common ways that Industrial robots are being used in the construction industry are:

  • Manufacturing with Articulated robots: Articulated robots are like the robotic counterparts of a human arm. They're versatile and find use in various tasks, from simple assembly operations to welding.
  • Working alongside Collaborative robots: Also known as 'Cobots', these robots work alongside humans to complete tasks that might be challenging for either a human or a robot to handle alone.
  • 3D printing with Cartesian robots: Also known as linear or Gantry robots, these Industrial robots have many applications but are popular for 3D printing. This offers construction businesses an efficient and cost-effective way to create various products, even entire 3D-printed homes.

2. Self-driving construction vehicles

While the automotive industry is working to make self-driving cars more common, the construction industry is ahead of the curve with the use of autonomous construction equipment.

For example, Built Robotics, a US-based vehicular automation startup, specializes in enhancing off-the-shelf heavy equipment with artificial intelligence (AI). Its current lineup includes autonomous dozers, excavators, and compact track loaders. These machines operate entirely on their own, without the need for human control.

3. Drones

The popularity of drones in the construction industry is growing thanks to their ability to enhance safety and monitor project progress on construction sites.

What makes drones stand out is their remote control and aerial capabilities. They give us real-time updates on construction projects, changing how we approach projects without relying solely on human labor.

Some of the ways drones are being used in construction include:

  • 3D mapping: Drones can create a detailed aerial map of a construction site, which can then be turned into a 3D model. This can help contractors spot potential issues during the planning phase.
  • Enhancing security: Security is a top priority on construction sites, especially when theft can be a costly issue. Drones can help enhance security with an aerial view of the entire site.
  • Remote monitoring and site inspections: Drones provide a hassle-free solution for inspecting hard-to-reach areas and structures.

4. Humanoid laborers

The construction industry is facing a significant challenge: a shortage of skilled labor. While job opportunities are abundant, this industry is struggling to attract workers. In response to this challenge, the construction industry welcomed a new addition: the humanoid laborer, a fully autonomous robot designed to mimic human-like behaviors.

Companies around the world are investing in these robots to handle dangerous tasks, effectively replacing humans in construction and engineering roles.

The benefits of robotics in Construction

There are a host of benefits that come from introducing robots and automation into the construction world. Some of the key benefits are:

Tackling labor shortages

The biggest challenge the construction industry is facing is a shortage of skilled workers. However, introducing Construction robots can help ensure that work progresses steadily, especially for repetitive tasks.

This, in turn, allows human workers to focus on the more dynamic and specialized parts of construction, making the best use of available workers.

Boosting efficiency

Robots equipped with artificial intelligence can help streamline project planning, measurement, and execution.

Some construction tasks traditionally require multiple human workers until a specific project phase can be completed. Autonomous robots can perform these tasks independently. This frees up time for human workers to concentrate on more essential and complex jobs.

This not only translates into cost savings but also ensures that projects are completed on schedule.

Enhancing safety

Safety is essential in construction, but accidents can still happen even with extensive training and precautions. By using Construction robots to handle physically demanding and dangerous tasks, construction companies can improve the safety of their human workers.

Certain robots, like humanoid laborers, can handle grueling tasks like lifting and carrying heavy loads and objects around a site.

Reducing operating costs

It's no secret that many construction projects overshoot their budgets and timelines because of unforeseen challenges. Construction robots can help in this case by minimizing the need for rework and human errors. Given that these robots are guided by precise computer systems, they can help with cost savings and keep projects on track.

While Construction robotics has upfront costs, it's a wise long-term investment compared to the ongoing expenses of human workers.

Increasing productivity

Construction firms sometimes face challenges when organizing their workforce, and when workers are unavailable, it can disrupt project schedules. Here's where autonomous robots can offer adaptability by working alongside human teams.

Construction robots can quickly adjust to changing priorities or new tasks during a project, while human workers can focus on other aspects of the project. This kind of teamwork significantly boosts productivity.

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Application of Construction robots

Robots have quickly become invaluable tools in the construction industry, finding various applications from boosting efficiency in bricklaying to improving safety in demolition.

While you might find a few robots on construction sites, most of them are used behind the scenes in building construction machinery. These robots take care of tasks like arc welding, applying adhesives, and assembling parts.

Let's look at some of the many ways robots are being used in construction:

Bricklaying

One of the most popular applications of Construction robots is bricklaying. These robots are highly skilled at stacking bricks or blocks to construct walls, facades, and other structural parts.

Tying rebar

In reinforced concrete structures, securing the rebar with wire is a crucial step. This process doesn't just enhance the structural strength but keeps the rods in position during the concrete pouring phase. However, this can be a physically demanding and repetitive task. This is where vision-equipped robots, such as articulated robots, can help.

Welding

Some robots can be used for various welding jobs. Polar robots, in particular, are great for creating strong and reliable connections between metal parts such as steel beams.

3D printing

3D technology has been around for quite some time, but it's now making its way into the construction industry. With 3D technology, construction can happen much faster. What used to take months to build with traditional methods can now be done in a day or two using 3D technology.

Some Construction robots now have this capability. They can create intricate shapes and structures layer by layer using materials like concrete or plastic and by following digital designs.

Demolition

Demolition is a major part of construction, particularly for renovation projects. Using robots to handle large-scale demolitions can make the process faster, safer, and more efficient. Operators can also control the demolition from a safe distance.

Demolition robots are particularly handy in confined spaces, where they safely and quickly take down walls, clear debris, and crush concrete.

Site inspection

Construction robots, like drones, are equipped with cameras, sensors, and measuring devices that can check structures and keep an eye on construction progress. By using these robots, contractors can quickly identify problems or areas that need maintenance.

Future trends of robotics in Construction

It's evident that the construction industry is on the brink of a robotic revolution. While the use of automation and robotics may not be widespread at the moment, they'll certainly become a major trend in the near future.

Automation and robotics for on-site construction will see major growth. They'll become more accessible, easier to install, and simpler to operate directly on construction sites.

We can also expect to see more businesses adopting this technology. It won't just be for the big corporations; even smaller construction firms can get in on the robotics action.

Of course, benefits like cost-effectiveness, enhanced efficiency, and widespread availability will grow as more and more people adopt this new innovation in construction.

FAQs

Will Construction robots replace human workers?

No, robots won't replace human workers. Instead, they're designed to work alongside humans and make their jobs easier, not take over them completely. These robots are here to boost efficiency, productivity, and safety on construction sites. While they're advanced, they can't do everything humans can. So, experts agree that these technologies are tools to help humans, not replace them.

How can robotics in construction help with labor shortages?

Robotics in construction can be a valuable solution to address labor shortages in the industry. In today's evolving landscape, construction is embracing robots to make work safer and more efficient. By entrusting these jobs to robots, construction teams can focus on more important tasks.

What types of Industrial robots are being used in construction?

In construction, there are different kinds of Industrial robots in use. These include SCARA robots, Delta robots, Articulated robots, Cylindrical robots, and Cartesian robots. These robots play essential roles in automating various construction tasks.

Conclusion

In the years to come, we can expect to see more robots on construction sites. They'll be taking on tasks that demand precision, speed, and endurance. This holds the promise of increasing productivity, reducing costs, and enhancing worker safety.

As we continue moving forward with automation, we'll be seeing more advanced Construction robotics becoming commonplace.

Next steps

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