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5 Reasons to Implement Automation in Construction

POSTED 11/28/2022  | By: Ellie Poverly, A3 Contributing Editor

Automation is transforming the construction industry and vaulting it into the future with improved sustainability and efficiency. Automated technology is becoming increasingly important for filling positions and attracting young people as the workforce ages and the industry faces a labor shortage. Several key applications for automation are used in construction today and are planned for the future. 

1. Automating Manual Tasks On-Site

Anyone familiar with the construction industry knows that labor shortages [1] are a serious challenge for many teams. Automation is often an ideal solution. Robots are filling labor shortages by automating repetitive and time-consuming manual tasks.

For example, rebar-tying robots are making waves in construction by automating a notoriously long and repetitive task. These bots can cut labor hours and overall work duration [2] by upwards of 30%.

Robots are also learning to pave. Robotic paving and concrete pouring are still in their infancy but well on their way to becoming widely available technology. Automated paving vehicles recently resurfaced one of China’s busiest highways [3] in late 2021. Similarly, robotic abrasive blasting is still developing as a technology. However, automated blasting systems could improve site safety and overall project efficiency [4]. Robots can be consistently precise, so automated blasting could result in higher-quality surfaces.

Automated brick-laying robots were among the earliest bots to hit construction sites, and they continue to show promise. These machines help fill critical employment shortages in masonry construction. Welding robots are also among the most popular in the industry. Welding is dangerous, so automation helps keep skilled welders safe so they can focus on more complex welds instead of repetitive tasks. There are already several kinds of welding robots around construction sites today.

2. Creating Automated Prefab Construction

More prefabricated construction companies are using automated manufacturing to improve their production operations. Automating these components can improve quality consistency, reduce waste, boost efficiency and potentially even lower prices for end consumers. This is largely due to the proficiency of robotic systems when it comes to repetitive tasks. Automated manufacturing equipment can produce identical prefab components thousands of times nonstop without sacrificing quality consistency or wasting materials.

Image Courtesy: House of DesignAutomated assembly on-site will be a more complex application for prefab construction in the future. This requires advanced robotic equipment in conjunction with automation algorithms to operate it. Those technologies are still being developed and tested. However, this could one day lead to fully or partially automated prefab construction from factory to build site. A3 member, House of Design, already offers automated truss systems for floors and roofs.

3. Allowing Autonomous 3D-Printed Construction

Automated 3D-printing is among the most cutting-edge applications for AI in construction. This technology is also beginning to break through to a mainstream audience. In fact, the world’s largest 3D-printed neighborhood[5] is in development in Austin, Texas.

Construction-grade 3D printers are almost 100% automated. They require a small team of one or two technicians on-site to monitor the printer. Afterward, workers must install roofing and interiors. 3D-printed construction makes it less harmful to the environment than conventional methods since less waste is created in the building process. There is also minimal disturbance at and around build sites.

Even NASA is investing in this technology. Researchers are considering 3D-printed construction for future bases on Mars. They even commissioned a full-scale mockup [6] for simulations at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. R&D from NASA may help evolve the technology toward full automation down the line.

4. Monitoring Vehicle Performance and Fuel

Artificial Intelligence (AI) I can be used with IoT devices to automate the monitoring of construction vehicle performance. The program can alert site personnel of any performance declines as the algorithm analyzes data collected from the vehicles. This allows maintenance personnel to conduct tune-ups before minor problems lead to major breakdowns.

AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) can also be applied to monitoring fuel usage on-site. Automated data analysis can reveal insights about consumption that construction teams can use to optimize usage and reduce expenses. For instance, maybe vehicle operators’ habits are leading to excessive downtime. Automated fuel consumption monitoring lets workers address the issue and reduce costs.

Software-based fuel and fleet management systems can be utilized as either on-premise installations or cloud-based services and are offered from a variety of companies. 

 5. Providing Around-the-Clock Site Security

Automation technologies are great for ensuring high-quality security on construction sites. Break-ins can lead to damaged equipment and structures, and seriously endanger trespassers' lives. Drones can be used to keep an eye on things around the clock, even for teams that lack the personnel necessary to have a 24/7 security guard.

Most drones, whether airborne, or legged, can be set to autonomously rove a construction site day and night, transmitting video footage back to an object-recognition system. The automated image analysis program can rapidly identify suspicious activity and alert site personnel. Construction teams can even use two or more drones on shifts over 24-hour periods, accounting for the charging time each one will need.

With the help of drone technology, most monitoring functions can be completed at higher efficiency rates, making it faster and most importantly more safety orientated.  Construction sites have varying degrees of hazardous areas, especially during the initial stages of a project. With drone technology, humans no longer need to navigate dangerous areas to survey a site.

Automation and the Future of Construction

Automation is rapidly evolving how construction sites and teams operate, leading to improved safety, productivity, sustainability and more. Several technologies are still being developed and refined, but many are already going mainstream. The construction industry will see the rise of more innovative technologies as AI and robotics continue to advance.

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