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By John Biggs
June 18, 2018
Assembling and disassembling scaffolding is a necessary and labor-intensive part of most construction projects, and one that eats considerably into the time spent preparing a jobsite. Companies devote a huge amount of resources to this project phase, which ties up workers for days at a time. It’s also dangerous work, resulting in many workplace injuries each year.
As we’ve covered before, labor-intensive, repetitive tasks are among the best suited for automation or robotic assistance. And few construction site tasks are as repetitive and labor intensive as scaffold work.
Revolutionizing Scaffolding Assembly
Kewazo is a company working on an automated robotic scaffolding assembly system that could very well revolutionize the way that part of the job gets done, and we sat down with co-founder and CEO Artem Kuchukov to talk about the potential for the technology.
Kuchukov, who studied civil engineering at the Technical University of Munich, also studied robotics and construction. He spent a lot of time thinking about how construction sites could be automated, and zeroed in on scaffolding as a task ripe for robotic disruption.
“We looked at scaffolding assembly and found three major problems which define the industry. First, poor safety levels. In Germany you have more than 6,000 accidents per year which occur on scaffolds. Then you have the labor shortage, which is the biggest problem in the industry. There aren’t enough people who want the jobs anymore and companies are suffering. The third problem was inefficiency, there’s a bottleneck in the process of transporting scaffolding materials during assembly.
"We found scaffolding assembly takes around 80% of workers on site. Most of the time they’re busy transporting parts, only 20% of their time they’re putting parts together.”
Kuchukov says existing solutions are slow and labor intensive, requiring at least three people for operation. In thinking how they could bring efficiency and improved safety to the process, they landed on a smart scaffolding transportation elevator-like system which can transport parts using existing standard scaffolds, optimizing and improving material flow on construction site in the process. According to Kuchukov, by using a robotic scaffolding assembly system, the work that used to take three construction workers can now be done with two, representing an instant 33% reduction in labor costs.
In today’s construction world, burdened by labor shortages and razor-thin margins, every efficiency that can be realized is something worth looking at.
“We were trying to substitute labor intensive, potentially dangerous methods with robot-human collaboration. Construction workers do the actual assembly, which is easy for them but hard for robots. This way we get the best from both humans and robots. Transportation is the most labor-intensive process on-site. One worker per day transports around three tons of scaffolding material, you can imagine by substituting this activity we can reduce fatigue of construction workers. By automating this transportation we can also eliminate additional danger.”
The system can even be linked to smart wearable devices worn by workers so it automatically brings the needed parts to the correct level of the scaffolding.
As for cost savings, Kuchukov breaks down how such systems can make more efficient use of a shrinking labor pool to get the same job done in less time.
“We’ve done initial calculations how we feel scaffolding assembly companies can profit from it. We have a reference project of 2,000 square meters. Nowadays this project takes around seven days for assembly, and four to disassemble. By using our system we see the potential that the same project can be done in five days for assembly, three for disassembly, with a team of just two workers. In this way we calculate that scaffolding assembly companies have the potential to save 46% on labor costs.”
Fears of robots taking jobs away from construction workers are perhaps oversimplified, according to Kuchukov.
“The actual combination of humans and robots can bring a lot of results, on construction sites especially because you have those super undefined environments, which is very bad for robots, and you have super labor-intensive and tough jobs, which are bad for humans. If you find a way to have robots do the tough jobs and humans do the creative jobs, this is the best application area.
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