Robotics, 3D printing and automation in construction
The foundation to achieve and sustain economic growth and productivity in any industry is efficiency. The effective use of robotics enables companies to be competitive and reliable due to faster product development and delivery. In the construction industry, the scope for implementation of robotics and automation is vast because of various stages involved, such as – designing, estimation, project management, on-site operations, maintenance, and demolition. In the Middle East, traditional forms of construction are still the norm since labor costs are lower as compared to other developed nations.
The construction industry is one of the major contributors to the global GDP. Globally, around $10 trillion is being spent on construction every year which is equivalent to 13% of the GDP and yet the least digitized industry in the world with productivity levels among the weakest. According to studies, more than 80% of the projects run over budget and 20% longer time to finish. The productivity growth level in the construction industry has been at an average of 1% year on year for the past 2 decades much below the growth of 2.8% in the world economy and 3.6% in the manufacturing sector.
The construction robots and automation include three categories – enhancement to existing equipment, task-specific robots, and intelligent/cognitive machines. Enhancement to the existing equipment can be done with the use of sensors and laser control devices that enable program-controlled operation. Task-specific robots perform well-defined operations such as concrete placing, steelwork lifting and positioning, exterior wall spraying, ceiling panel handling, external wall inspection, window, and floor cleaning. Intelligent or cognitive machines are the combination of the first two categories and the least developed among the three.
One of the reasons for this decrease in productivity can be addressed by inculcating digital technology and advanced automation. Some of these are:
- 5D Building Information Modelling: It allows to create a digital representation of the physical and spatial dimensions of a project. Earlier versions of BIM encompassed only 3D models. 5D technology, in addition to the previous models, adds scheduling and costing layers as well enabling it to become an effective visualization and project management platform.
- Digital Mobility and collaboration: It involves replacing the traditional paper-heavy processes with digital workflows. This can be done by using construction management apps and software to track productivity, generate reports, manage documents, and manage logistics and inventory.
- Use of UAV’s and drones for scanning, monitoring and mapping: Replacing the traditional electronic distance measuring devices with photogrammetry and satellite positioning systems. Use LIDAR (Light detection and ranging) laser scanners in conjunction with drones or handheld scanners to provide high quality and accurate 3D output
- 3D printing: this technology is on the rise with a number of companies coming together to print concrete structures. For example, in Shanghai, a 6-story apartment was built entirely with a 3D printer. Dubai is also at the forefront of promoting this technology announcing that 25% of the city-state’s new buildings will be made using 3D printers by 2025. This strategy announced by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai aims to reduce labor by 70% and cut costs by 90% across different sectors. The “Office of the Future” constructed in Dubai was the first 3D printed concrete structure which was built using a robotic arm of 6 meters height and 12 meters The Dubai Future Foundation estimates that the labor costs were reduced by 50% compared to the cost of building a similarly sized structure using traditional methods.
- Robotics and drone technology: Repetitive tasks in the construction industry such as bricklaying, paving, etc. have already been taken over by robots in some countries like the U.S.A and Australia. Studies from these countries show that there is an increase of more than 100% in masonry productivity with the implementation of robotics. A New York-based start-up has invented a bricklaying robot capable of laying 2000 bricks per day, which is a vast increase from an average of 400 bricks that can be placed manually. Companies in parts of India are utilizing the potential of drones to string transmission lines to towers. Research is also being done to explore the possibility to string bridge cables remotely and autonomously.
Recent research in the field of construction automation have categorized robotics into 5 categories:
- Robot oriented design: Robot oriented design (ROD) includes design and management tools for the deployment of automation and robotics in construction.
- Robot industrialization: automation and robotic technologies for customized component, module, and building prefabrication.
- Construction robots: elementary technologies and single task construction robots
- Site automation: setting up controlled, factory-like environments on the construction site in the form of automated/robotic on-site factories.
- Ambient robotics: technologies for maintenance, assistance, and service such as cleaning robots, humanoid robots, etc.
Some of the major advantages of implementing robotics and automation in the construction processes are:
- Reduced dependency on direct labor
- Significant increase in productivity
- Greater control over production processes
- Increase in quality
- Improved efficiency on repeatable tasks
The global construction robotics market is expected to more than double to $266 million by 2024 and the global market for 3D printing of all kinds to $32.78 billion by 2023. Also, by 2024 the global 3D concrete printing market is expected to be around $58 million. Semi and fully automatic robots will help the labors to work in a safe and efficient manner. Different indicators related to growth, performance, efficiency, etc. indicate that the traditional construction methodology has reached its limit and to overcome these shortcomings, the industry should start implementing construction automation similar to what manufacturing and other service industries have done. The construction industry is prepared for an unparalleled growth in the coming years and by undertaking various high-quality and technology-focused initiatives, Buildzone is geared up to support the sustainable development plans in the region.