All traditional construction methods are known as labor-intensive and conducted in very chaotic and dangerous environments. Moreover, problems relating to the instability of labor force supply and the increasing labor costs continue to surface daily in the construction industry. Therefore, engineers have introduced automation and robotics into their construction sites to lower labor force dependence and increase efficiency.
Today, the use of automation and robotics technologies is prevalent in all stages of construction, from the automation of the design process, computer-aided design, construction schedules, project management to cost estimation, planning, etc.
The scope for automation and robotics in construction is fairly broad. It can touch upon all stages of the construction life-cycle, from the initial design, through the building maintenance or control, to the eventual dismantling or demolition of the building. However, the degree of automation and robotics systems implementation in construction varies significantly from one construction phase to another.
The most significant benefits of applying robotics and automation systems into construction include enhancing productivity, work efficiency, reduced costs, higher quality and accuracy compared to skilled workers, higher safety for workers, public and machines in dangerous work environments, and minimum manual work.
Advantages of automation and robotics in construction
As mentioned above, automation and robotics in construction have various advantages. Among the most meaningful advantages are:
- Less dependency on direct labor: It reduces the problems related to quality and the repetitiveness of work. Cost is reduced significantly since fewer operators are necessary for the automated system.
- Increase in productivity: Besides the speed of production, productivity is improved by disengaging the operational limitations of the human factor.
- Increase in occupational safety: The automated systems carry out most work in dangerous zones for humans. This makes it possible to reduce labor injuries.
- Higher quality: Operations with automated and robotized systems are less variable than human workers, ensuring higher quality.
- Greater control over the overall productive process: Engineers can verify the system’s correct functioning and result at each stage of the process.
- Greater control on the final result: We can determine the final result efficiently by controlling each step of the process.
Factors restraining automation and robotics in construction
There are various barriers to the successful and effective implementation of automation and in construction sites. Interestingly, most of the time, engineers prefer to use automation in the designing and planning phase of the construction projects since automation technologies such as software are cheaper to use in the early stage of construction than on-site operation.
Another main obstacle to robotics implementation is the variability of construction processes and the variable conditions of a construction environment. Unlike other industries, execution can significantly vary between two different sites. Executing the same operation in different sites depends on various factors, including the materials, tools, complexity of geography, etc. The process flow can vary for the same activity if there are too many varying factors.
Another barrier is technological and economical. The robots must cope with the complexity, dynamic, and continuously evolving nature of the construction site, together with the necessity for performing multiple tasks with differing characteristics.
All in all, the barriers to the implementation of automation and robotics in construction sites mainly belong to these groups: economic and cost, structure and organization of the construction industry, features of construction product and work processes (mainly uniqueness and complexity), technology (the nature of the construction work processes itself), and culture and the human factor.
These barriers also imply:
- high investments are needed to incorporate the technologies
- the workplace is not static, construction sites are too dynamic and unstructured, construction methods can be too complicated for robots, and need for more mobile robots for transport and lifting of heavy components
- there are frequent changes or advances in automated technologies, and users have difficulty in keeping up with the changes
- construction sites are usually unique and do not present the same set of problems; construction is a diverse industry and must cope with an almost unique set of circumstances on each project and site
- temporary works and weather impact is substantial, etc.
Robots are primarily intended and developed for the sectors in which poor labor conditions prevail, and a decrease of the load is prospective. The high frequency of work injuries and the high statistics of work-related sickness in the building industry demands a special requirement to implement automation and robotics in construction. Ideally, robot systems should handle heavy loads in a construction site, perform dangerous or dirty work, or work at hardly accessible locations and in ugly physical positions.
While some may believe that using robotics in construction is a recent development, it is part of a larger story about construction automation dating back thousands of years. Even though construction automation has a long and illustrious history, we are only at the start of a new era in which robotics and automation will transform long-standing traditional construction workflows. The work currently being done to connect the worlds of robotics and construction is exciting, fascinating, and encouraging, but there is still much more to be done.