Construction is one of the largest industries contributing to the United States economy. However, contractors and designers have shown a lack of interest in automation using robots in the construction field for the past many years. The digital revolution is taking over different industries all around the globe and it will be playing a vital role in the field of construction. Technology is improving day by day to improve efficiency and minimize resource utilization. Robotics has taken over different projects in construction including 3D printing, unmanned vehicles and machinery, assembling robots, drones, and exoskeletons, etc.
Robots in construction are a miracle for the contractors, designers, as well as clients since the results are showing a significant reduction in cost, time, and resources. From bricklaying to painting and from bulldozing to loadings, robots can perform all of these tasks in lesser time as compared to manual labor. In this way, robotics is helping the construction industry in improving security measures of laborers by minimizing the risk factors, on-site injuries, and labor shortage problems.
Background and Challenges
It has been a challenge for the construction industry to deploy robots in different fields due to the various job roles and locations. Before we dig into details the use of robotics in construction, let us first discuss about the main components of basic components of a robot that will perform different tasks and projects in the construction field.
- Robot Manipulator – Sturdy robots like unmanned cranes that handle the transportation of heavy material on-site.
- Effector – These types of robots are further divided into two categories based on the tasks assigned to them. There are grippers that handle different lightweight to medium-weight objects. The second category is all about different working tools designed for specific on-site jobs.
- Control Unit – The robots are preprogrammed to perform a certain tasks including painting, welding, etc. Moreover, it controls the movement of the robot using feedback, sensors, and machine learning algorithms.
- Sensor – Sensors are used to measure distance covered and proximity calculation.
- Locomotion and Mobility – Movement of robots on smooth and rough surfaces. Sensors and control unit play their role in the movement of the robot on a smooth surface thus avoiding any mechanical failure in the robot. However, human supervision is required in the case of rough surfaces, slope, and edges.
Types of Robots in Construction
Automation and robotics can play a groundbreaking part in the construction industry. Robots can be categorized into four types of general categories:
1. Off-site prefabrication
Robots can integrate different parts, especially in modular construction. Examples include building component manufacturing and 3-D printing. There are different technologies integrated to improve the overall quality of prefabricated building components and modules. These robots have deployed building component manufacturing (BCM) technology and are experts in transforming low-level components like concrete, bricks, steel, and wood materials into high-level building modules like steel trusses, walls, floors, roof sections, and wood structures. These robots are also capable of performing large-scale prefabrication that includes bathrooms and kitchen modules.
2. On-site automation
Robots can monitor and inspect an on-site environment and activities. These types of robots work directly on-site alongside other laborers and workers. Single-task construction robots are designed for steel welding, bricklaying, wall painting, concrete laying, façade installation, and steel-truss assembly. Robotic arms have been in use in the automation industry for a long time. The same mechanism can perform on-site tasks by mounting a robotic arm on a moveable sliding platform.
3. Drones and Unmanned vehicles
A drone can provide a 360-degree inspection and survey of the construction site. Similarly, autonomous vehicles can transport heavy materials from one place to another. In a broader picture, these robots include nautical, aerial and terrestrial vehicles that do not require any human operator. These devices can monitor and survey extreme high-risk areas inaccessible by humans. These driverless and GPS-enabled autonomous vehicles can perform tasks including mining, drilling, and excavation.
Drones can be categorized into two types including aerial and terrestrial drones. Both of these drones are assigned different responsibilities. Aerial drones are widely used to survey and monitor unreachable locations. Terrestrial drones are used to automate the bridge inspection and monitor construction progress by collecting real-time data.
Wearable devices capable of augmenting reality to improve construction work and estimation. Moreover, other wearable equipment can allow the workers to lift heavy loads and use other tools efficiently. Exoskeletons are mechanical devices that can be worn by the workers to improve human efficiency and performance. For example, a wearable mechanical robot allows the worker to lift heavy objects and tools. The use of exoskeletons significantly improves productivity and reduces human injury.
Why is robotics a miracle in construction?
The use of robots in modular construction in off-site prefabrication ensures accuracy and precision throughout the project. Finances and time both are saved considerably by fully automating on-site single tasks of welding, cutting, and material handling. Robotics can help the contractors to implement construction codes in a more effective way. The overall goal is to achieve higher productivity by reducing the carbon footprint. 3D printing allows designers to conceptualize complex designs, parts, and layers.
Robotics can help to standardize the material and its production in construction processes. The more standardization, the more is the savings in terms of money and time. It is a win-win situation for both the constructors and clients. It is worth mentioning that robots not only help in construction but also in the demolition process. Robotics speed up the entire process of breaking down of walls, concrete crushing, and debris gathering and dumping.
On one side, robotics can help the construction industry standardizing the different processes and on the other side; it can customize on-demand projects with the help of 3D modeling and virtual reality. Exoskeletons improve human performance by minimizing on-site injuries. Artificial intelligence and other management software manage the operations and logistics using digital portals.
On another note, Robotics is a challenge, as it will reduce the total number of workers, as more jobs will be automated using robots. Therefore, the need of the time is to improve existing skills and switching them to robots handling and operations. The need for labor cannot be zero, but the laborers should learn to use exoskeletons. The taskforce is required to monitor the automated performance reports. The humans at the back-end control the aerial and terrestrial drones.
The future of construction revolves around robotics and automation. It has its challenges in proper implementation, but these advancements in technology are a necessity to improve the overall efficiency of the construction industry.