How best to integrate robotics into construction projects?


Robotics is revolutionizing the construction industry by helping teams worldwide build better, faster, and safer. The potential of construction robotics is exciting, but it can be challenging to know where to get started.

Integrating robotics into your team requires some careful consideration of the potential benefits and potential obstacles. Understanding these factors will help you integrate construction robotics into your projects in the best way possible.

Construction robotics is just one niche of a larger field known as robotic process automation or RPA. This technology uses robots to automate certain tasks, particularly those that are simple and repetitive. For example, one of the most common jobs for construction robotics is laying bricks.

It is important to remember that RPA is not about replacing human workers. The robots used in RPA are generally limited to one or two repetitive tasks. They cannot replicate a person’s creative and analytical thinking skills. Rather, construction robots work alongside site workers to make projects safer and more efficient through RPA.

RPA can be used in virtually any industry, from finance to construction. It includes automation through software as well as physical robots. So, artificial intelligence (AI) used to automate tasks also falls into this category. Physical robots are ideal for many construction tasks and are often more approachable than complex AI algorithms, especially for those new to RPA.

Considerations for robotics in construction

You will need to account for some big-picture considerations before implementing construction robotics on your projects. These factors can significantly impact how and when you integrate robotics into your next construction project.

Goals for RPA On-site

When implementing any new technology, it is important to have some way to gauge whether or not the integration is a success. Before investing in construction robotics, consider what your goals for the robot or robots might look like. This could be a certain gap on your team you would like a robot to fill or a metric you hope a robot could improve.

Identifying a worthy goal will help you choose the right construction robot or robots for your team. It will also ensure the integration stays focused on a specific set of objectives.

Early adopter advantages

It may be tempting to “wait it out” and see how some other construction companies utilize robotics in the years ahead. However, there is a serious advantage for early adopters in this space worth considering.

Construction robotics is already being implemented on a broad spectrum of projects and tasks worldwide. The companies that invest in this technology early on will be the first to offer the advantages of robotics to clients and customers. They will also be instrumental in shaping the future of robotics in construction since developers look to early adopters for ideas and feedback.

In contrast, a laggard is a company that resists adopting new technologies. Becoming a tech laggard can have major consequences, including obsolescence, reliance on aging devices, poor collaboration with the industry, and insufficient security. Taking the leap on construction robotics early will allow you to dodge these issues and help innovate the construction industry while reaping the benefits of RPA.

Robotics and the labor shortage

The construction industry lacks an estimated 2.2 million workers as of late 2021. The shortage is becoming an even greater concern amidst record demand for new homes across the United States. Construction robotics is uniquely positioned to help fill this labor shortage and keep construction projects on schedule.

The labor shortage also answers whether or not robots threaten construction workers’ job security. With millions of unfilled jobs, construction robotics is in little danger of taking the currently filled positions. Additionally, robots are suited for the most mundane and repetitive tasks in construction. So, if robots are taking over these roles, anyone currently doing those tasks can be promoted to a more engaging job in the industry.

Benefits of construction robots

Construction robotics is packed with benefits for any team. With an effective integration strategy, these benefits can quickly pay off any initial cost for the robotic equipment. The key potential benefits of robotics also provide a starting point for the goals of your integration strategy.

1. Long-term cost reduction

Robotics can save significant amounts of money over time. This stems from several sources. For example, if you decided to add an autonomous rebar-tying robot to your team, you would no longer have to pay someone to spend hours on this monotonous task. Down the road, you would also no longer have to pay to advertise a job opening for a rebar-tying specialist.

Additionally, the robot would be able to perform this task faster and more efficiently than a person, leading to shorter project timelines and, as a result, more projects for your team.

As a bonus, you would save money on materials. Since robots can perform the same task innumerably without losing precision, errors are much less likely. So, less rebar would be wasted on commonplace mistakes.

2. Improved productivity

Between the labor shortage and the inherent efficiency of robots, a productivity boost is virtually guaranteed with construction robotics. The overall shortage of skilled workers in construction makes it difficult for any construction company to keep up with the surging demand. Construction robotics can help fill those gaps, allowing your team to work smarter, not harder.

3. Improved efficiency

Closely connected to improved productivity is improved efficiency. The tasks that robots are good to attend to are the same ones people tire of quickly, which results in lower efficiency. When people perform the same task repeatedly, they are also more likely to lose focus, get injured, or lose accuracy over time.

Robots don’t have this problem, though. With construction robotics, you can get tasks completed rapidly that would otherwise be heavily time-consuming and often boring. A robot won’t experience diminishing focus or quality, either. For example, drones can be used for site surveys in construction, which typically takes days or weeks. A drone can render accurate, detailed scans of an entire site in mere hours with just one crew to operate it.

4. Increased safety

One of the most important benefits of construction robotics is improved safety for site workers. Even tasks that aren’t inherently dangerous, such as laying bricks, can result in long-term injuries simply due to the nature of the task.

With bricklaying, for example, bending over repetitively and for long periods can lead to back and muscle pain that can seriously impact a worker’s day-to-day life. Robots can take on dangerous manual tasks risk-free and protect your team from job-related injuries.

Potential Challenges

Construction robotics has many valuable benefits, but it also has some potential obstacles that you must consider carefully. A good integration strategy will include plans to address these challenges.

a. safety

While robotics generally improves safety in construction, it may pose safety risks if site workers are not careful. There is always the chance that a team member could be injured by one of the robots if they are using it improperly or malfunctioning.

To prevent this, you will need to implement thorough training and inform your team about properly interacting with any robotic equipment. Safety gear and designated areas for robotic equipment may also help prevent accidents.

b. Training and accessibility

Training is crucial in construction robotics. Training reduces the likelihood of accidents, but it also ensures you are getting maximum performance from your robots. When your team knows how to operate the robots properly, they are best equipped to accomplish the goals you have set out.

It may be challenging to develop a comprehensive training program, though. You will also need to set aside the time to conduct training sessions with your team. Some people may not be receptive to working alongside robots at first, so you may need to convince them the technology is worth adopting. Additionally, robotics may not be accessible for workers who are not already skilled with technology.

c. Installation costs

While robotics in construction tends to pay itself off after integration, the initial installation costs can be prohibitive for some teams. These costs vary greatly depending on specific models and scale, but even a drone that costs a few hundred dollars can be expensive for a team on a tight budget.

You will need to pay to maintain the robot, as well, and may need to pay for additional software to complete some tasks.

Ideal jobs for robots in construction

After carefully weighing the potential benefits and challenges of adding a robot to your team, you’ll need to decide what kind of model you want to look for. Construction robots are available for many different tasks, so it’s simply a matter of matching up a gap on your team with a robot that can fill that space.

These specific jobs are ideal roles for robots in construction and may provide a good starting point for integrating one into your team. However, a good rule of thumb is that robots are best suited for repetitive manual tasks.

1. Laying bricks

A bricklaying robot made headlines in 2017 when performance studies revealed it could lay bricks 500% faster than a human. The robot also costs approximately seven times less than it would cost to hire an hourly-paid bricklayer.

The bricklaying robot still needs a pair of workers to help it out by feeding it bricks. However, the cost of paying these workers will still be less than that of a human bricklayer because the work can be completed in significantly less time.

2. Tying rebar

A rebar-tying robot saved a Pennsylvania construction team 34% on personnel hours for a 2021 bridge project. The robot can type up to 1,000 intersections of horizontal rebar per hour. The team even found that the robot helped motivate their manual rebar-tying crew to work more efficiently, speeding up the project further. As a result, the bridge could reopen to the public quickly.

3. Hauling

Robotic vehicles have already been developed to haul materials around construction sites autonomously. From autonomous dump trucks to autonomous trains and everywhere, driverless construction vehicles are on the rise.

Industry leaders believe it may be much easier to implement fully autonomous vehicles in construction than in consumer markets. Powered by AI and robotics, these vehicles will likely revolutionize construction in the years ahead.

4. Printing floor plans

One handy construction robot is the Dusty Robotics FieldPrinter, which autonomously prints floor plans. The robot can draw straight lines with incredible accuracy, saving site workers hours that would otherwise have to be spent performing and verifying layout measurements. The FieldPrinter, like many construction robots, collects data about its performance as it works, allowing you to optimize performance further.

5. Site surveying

Robots are fantastic for conducting site surveys. Since drones are so widely available, this is a great place for many construction teams to get started with robotics. The drone simply needs a camera and sensor package plus someone to program or operate it.

Site surveys can take days or even weeks to complete, but a drone can return detailed results in hours. These digital surveys can easily be fed into analysis software, where you can get an in-depth look at the site data. As a bonus, you can use your drone to take great aerial photos of the project as you progress, which will impress stakeholders.

Innovating with construction robotics

Construction robotics are revolutionary right now, but it won’t be long before they can be found on virtually every construction site. Successfully integrating a robot into your team is finding the right job for a robot to fill, identifying a worthy goal to aim for, and matching up the perfect robot for the role. Integrating robotics into your construction projects will enable you to become an industry innovator and empower your team with the benefits of robotics in construction.