Technology is transforming the construction and project management landscape in more ways than one. An increasing reliance on technology, along with robotics, to tackle the complexities of mega projects, has started pushing companies to explore newer and cost effective solutions.
In fact, robots are now the centre of all futuristic construction technology. A multi-purpose drone, bulldozer automation systems, robots cutting, stacking and packaging materials and welding structural frames are increasingly becoming a common feature across large, complex construction projects.
Technology can also monitor deliveries, inventory and enhance the efficiency of the overall process. This has led to an increase in the demand of various types of robots viz. collaborative industrial robots, logistics robots, building automation, autonomous drones, additive manufacturing and 3D printing etc.
Robots also help cope with mundane activities like lifting, shifting, loading unloading and other kind of repetitive jobs reducing dependence on human intervention and external factors such as fatigue, interest, skills, work timing and human errors.
Apart from addressing the issue of productivity, robots also play a key role in challenging work environment like mines and tunneling, where work has to be carried out in confined spaces and extreme weather conditions, human intervention in these areas is impossible.
Some of the other challenges where the use of robotics in construction can help address:
Construction projects are becoming more demanding and complicated in design. Structural complexity, technical complexity and high levels of dynamism on the end user needs flexibility to adopt to changes and re-engineer during construction, with zero impact to project end results.
Robots with their precision, can contribute towards reducing the carbon footprint by means of reduced usage of fossil fuel, reduced air and noise pollution and in addition can contribute to safe work practices and minimize other environmental risk associated with construction.
As projects continue to become increasingly complex, contractors face a huge risk on timely delivery. The advent of precast technology in the present form, and integration of robots with technology helps to optimize and expedite project timelines.
As a result of these, the demand for industrial robots has accelerated considerably in the past couple of years. Between 2011 and 2016, the average robot sales grew at 12% per year (CAGR) with the number of industrial robots deployed worldwide estimated to increase to 2.6 million units by 2019.
Manufacturers are taking a note of this surge in demand. For example, a New York based company, Construction Robotics has created a Semi-Autonomous Mason – Sam100, whose margin of error is now measured in millimetres. It can apply mortar to any size brick and place one every 8.5 seconds. Where a human mason can lay 300-600 bricks in an eight-hour shift, Sam can lay more than 3,000.
A robot, called WALT (by Endless Robotics) can paint walls about 30 times quicker than a human at a speed of about 60 square feet per minute and can work at heights from 8ft to 14ft.
Another disruptive technology is 3D printing. It drastically reduces time overruns and labour cost needed for construction projects. With 3D printing, one can effectively print an entire prefabricated building structure and later assemble them into a complete building onsite. Companies such as Caterpillar, Cazza, have already introduced products around this.