The COVID-19 health crisis has changed the way most businesses operate. For those in construction, it’s underscored the need to maintain safe and efficient operations under anything but typical conditions.
While there’s hope that life and business will return to some semblance of normal this year, for the time being, many AEC companies must still adhere to health mandates and restrictions, such as mask-wearing, maintaining six feet of distance between workers, and working with fewer crews onsite. Even after the pandemic is behind us, the need for better technologies and processes that the crisis uncovered has simply accelerated a digital transformation in the construction industry that’s long overdue. And the technologies that got us through these difficult times provide safety and efficiency advantages that merit their continued use long after the crisis has passed.
Robotic construction technology is one of those advancements where the benefits are impossible to ignore. In an industry where increased safety and greater productivity top the list of priorities, robotic tools are a natural fit. They can be used to access jobsites and complete tasks when workers can’t or when it isn’t safe for them to do so. The automated and autonomous functionality of robotics also makes otherwise repetitive, time-consuming, or complex work go much faster and smoother, providing additional safety benefits and a much-needed boost in productivity.
“There are major opportunities ... in cutting-edge robotics apps for repetitive construction tasks such as bricklaying, road paving, lumber cutting to standardized dimensions, and 3-D printing of building materials. These apps enable onsite fabrication and more complex assemblies.”— “Rise of the platform era: The next chapter in construction technology,”McKinsey & Company, Oct. 30, 2020
As the industry absorbs the lessons of the pandemic, it’s imperative that AEC companies consider how technologies like robotics can enable and even improve operations, not only when uniquely challenging situations arise but during periods of relative normalcy, too. Here’s a closer look at how you can use robotics to create a safer, more efficient, and more productive jobsite.
How Robotics Are Being Used on the Jobsite Today
Though some worry that using robotic technology to automate processes and streamline operations poses a threat to human workers, the opposite is more often the case. The rise of robotic tools provides opportunities for existing workers to learn new skills and attracts the next generation of technology-minded workers to the construction industry.
As companies come up for air and address the workforce challenges they’ve had to contend with over the past several years, robotics can provide a much-needed bright spot. By bringing invaluable technology to the forefront of their business, AEC companies can breathe fresh air into their recruitment, hiring, and training programs.
The breadth and depth of functionality that robotic technology can deliver is significant. Robotics can help AEC professionals across a range of disciplines to:
- Precisely survey large geographic areas
- Capture as-built data and help identify potential clashes in the early stages of a project
- Monitor work in progress and facilitate QA/QC
- Complete tasks off-hours or when site conditions are hazardous to workers
- Automate repetitive tasks and monotonous workflows
General construction contractor Hensel Phelps is using robotic technology in combination with 3D laser scanning to collect large amounts of as-built data that can be used to create 3D models and other documentation. The data can also be shared across several teams, including BIM, project engineering, layout, and project management. Access to the same up-to-date information is a central tenet of connected construction, which is built on the premise of breaking down information silos, enabling far more effective communication and collaboration, and increasing efficiency and productivity.
One specific example is the Great Hall renovation at Denver International Airport (DIA). Hensel Phelps uses Spot the robot dog to scan and document the project’s progress. Operated by a worker remotely, Spot can roam a large jobsite on its own, collecting data at any time of day — even outside regular work hours. The data can then be used to gain a detailed understanding of the as-built structure that was previously built by another contractor, as well as discover and solve potential problems with the build up front before they turn into bigger, more costlier issues later. Instead of having to schedule a worker and ask them to walk through a potentially hazardous jobsite, Spot can complete the work safely and without delays.
To see how Mortenson is using Spot the robot dog, watch the video.
Gain a Competitive Edge with Robotic Construction Technology
The pandemic has brought many changes to the construction industry, some of them unexpected and no doubt unwelcome. But it’s also accelerated the adoption of autonomous technologies like robotics that can help AEC companies continue operations in the event of a crisis and make meaningful improvements to quality, productivity, and safety that they can continue to benefit from long after the danger has passed.
Those that adopt autonomous technology now stand to gain a leg up on the competition and are better prepared to respond and adapt to an uncertain future. To learn more about autonomy and the future of construction, watch the ENR webinar.