Construction industry professionals commonly deal with projects that take months or even years to complete. However, advancements in robotic automation could help certain processes get done much more efficiently and keep workers safe from repetitive stress injuries. Here are some compelling examples.
Many efforts to use construction robots center on duties that require people to maintain consistent output and high precision over time. For example, some companies built robots that can lay bricks.
One model made by Fastbrick Robotics, called the Hadrian X, is even more efficient now than during its release in 2019. It achieved a 300% speed increase, allowing it to place 200 bricks per hour. Even better, it can maintain that pace while attending to the bricks needed for an entire house.
In another example of a bricklaying robot, a company expected it to construct a home in the United Kingdom within two to three weeks. In that case, the automated system still needed two people to supervise operations and replenish supplies as necessary. However, those employees could handle other essential tasks, such as installing horizontal barriers that moisture-proof the bricks.
Improved safety was another advantage. Automating laying the bricks prevented crews from working at dangerous heights. The robot was a track-mounted machine resting on a 30-foot high frame. That system eliminated the need for scaffolding.
Some construction robots significantly shorten the time required for specific multistep tasks. One example is a machine that combines a scissor lift with a robotic arm. Humans operate the bot, which handles taping, spraying and sanding while finishing drywall. This approach reportedly completes a process in two days that previously required a week of work.
Additional statistics showed that this type of automation caused a 34% reduction in the cycle time needed to get a level-5 finish and achieved a 99.9% dust recapture rate. That second statistic is particularly significant because particles generated by manual drywall sanding can irritate the lungs and may cause persistent problems for workers.
Moreover, letting robots handle drywall finishing could address the hand and wrist injuries humans often get when engaging in the task for too long. People remotely control the robotic arm, but bringing automation to the job allows them to keep a safer distance while working. That’s vitally important considering the widely utilized protocols implemented due to COVID-19.
Many applications of automation for construction sites complement equipment or technology that workers know well. For example, some partially automated features on heavy machinery remove the guesswork from compacting or grading.
Another example gaining traction on construction sites are pneumatic robot arms. They are capable of lifting materials and helping with the construction process. Depending on the actuators involved, robots on site can move in a linear motion or in quarter-turn and complete repetitive tasks. Since there are many different processes on a construction site that robotics can do, more workers can specialize their skill sets to run different machines.
A team at Purdue University developed a construction robot that combines a new mechanical design with computer vision capabilities. It features an armlike shape that can place and fasten material. The developers said this innovation also differentiates between various structural elements and matches them to a building information modeling (BIM) system.
One major advantage of robots is that they can do jobs that pose extraordinary dangers to humans. For example, some models are sent into buildings to deactivate bombs or explore rubble for survivors after buildings collapse. Robotic automation also excels at tasks that people regularly handle but often experience challenges with while completing.
A product called the FLX BOT has a snakelike shape that’s only 1 inch in diameter. Besides handling small areas with ease, it can also go around corners or T junctions, brace against a wall and expand, or extend and rotate a particular joint.
People can also customize the length by using three to 11 interlocking sections. The bot uses cameras and sensors to map the environment and autonomously move through it.
This product accommodates numerous needs, ranging from inspections to obstruction removals. That’s because users can put on various attachments, such as a camera, soldering iron, drill or gripper, depending on the task at hand.
People typically use low-tech tools like chalk and tape measures when indicating a building’s structural layout. However, construction robots could revamp those processes.
Dusty Robotics has technologies that sync with BIM data to autonomously move along a surface, printing plans on the material as it goes. The company’s website claims the bot draws straight lines with up to 1/16” accuracy. Also, since the machine has path planning and obstacle avoidance technology, it can continue printing the plans while getting close to edges and obstructions.
Another advantage is that the robot can simultaneously lay plans for people in multiple trades. This allows everyone to work off relevant information, keeping output levels high.
This use of construction robots has caught the attention of investors, too. The company recently raised $16.5 million in a Series A round, bringing its total funding to $23.7 million. Representatives from the organization say COVID-19 was among the recent factors that changed how people live and work. Other long-term considerations, such as the decreasing price of robotic hardware and people looking at automation to address labor shortages, have also encouraged individuals to consider robots.
People often worry that robotic automation will take people’s jobs, leaving them with few options. However, in the examples discussed here and others, robots typically enhance processes rather than wholly replacing humans.
When used well, construction robots can help people limit their participation in hazardous, difficult or monotonous tasks, giving them more time in a workday to spend on duties that require specialized skills and creativity.
Technology is not at the point where a site manager could set up a house-building robot and let it work for days without human input or supervision, and it may never reach that level. However, bringing automation to construction can boost productivity, reduce injuries and help projects finish on time.