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Robotics Break New Ground in Construction

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Ever since autonomous work robots have made the leap from science fiction to the real world, some construction professionals have had a wary eye on the technology. In recent years, we’ve seen construction robots capable of performing such tasks as hanging drywall, laying bricks, surveying jobsites and more. 

While some have raised the question of whether human workers are set to be replaced by metal and silicon, many construction professionals don’t see construction robots as a direct threat. In fact, they see emerging technology as another tool to complement labor, and help make work safer and more efficient.  

“They’ve really taken a forward-looking perspective on the technology…They have accepted it as a solution and not a threat.”

“They’ve really taken a forward-looking perspective on the technology…They have accepted it as a solution and not a threat,” Stephen Muck, Advanced Construction Robotics chairman and CEO, told attendees at the recent Engineering News-Record FutureTech conference.  

Muck added that union officials are also coming on board, partly because of the skilled labor shortage the industry is facing. “They see it as a way to help get the job done because the workforce just doesn’t exist now.”  

Advanced Construction Robotics is the creator of TyBot, a rebar-tying robot currently in use on bridge deck construction projects in several U.S. states. The robot can expand on a frame up to 140 feet across a bridge’s width and crews only need to place and frame-in 10 percent of the rebar before letting TyBot do the rest. The company claims TyBot slashes labor hours and cuts down on worker injuries caused by strain from the repetitive job.

The company also has another robot in the works, called IronBot. It will be capable of carrying and placing rebar on horizontal surfaces. Muck told Construction Dive he expects IronBot will be able to perform the work of humans in half the time. Thanks to these technologies, older workers can remain on the job for longer without jeopardizing their health or safety.

“For an ironworker who is 60 years old and has been doing rebar work for decades, they tend to be pretty worn out,” Muck said. “Moving into becoming a quality control technician on a robot allows them to extend their career.”

Robotics technology got another big shot in the arm earlier this month. Mortenson Construction and Built Robotics announced a major partnership that will bring Built’s autonomous machinery into its fleet, marking one of the first major construction companies to incorporate robotics on a national scale.

Built Robotics’ AI system will predominantly be used in digging 100-foot diameter wells for wind turbine projects, Gurav Kikani, the company’s vice president of strategy and operations, told the audience. The 18-month old system has also introduced AI to heavy machinery like skid steers and bulldozers, already in use by other companies for jobs like residential excavation and oil and gas project trenching.

The accompanying software provides the equipment’s tasks and uses geofencing technology to keep it within a specific area. LiDAR and cameras give it the ability to avoid people and other equipment. If necessary, human operators can take control of the machine at any time by way of hard-wired emergency stop buttons. Of course, the machines don’t need breaks or take sick days; they can even be used overnight, giving firms more bang for their equipment expenditure buck.

“All that a human needs to do is fuel the machine, grease the equipment and press go,” Kikani said.

Between improved worker safety, superior efficiency and compensating for the worker shortage, it’s clear construction professionals are warming up to the idea of bolstering their workforces with robotics. The technology’s potential will be further magnified if workers treat technology as another tool to make their work easier and safer rather than a possible threat to their jobs.

To learn more about where the future of construction tech is headed, be sure to check out these free ebooks:

The Eight Most Interesting Wearable Technologies

These Are The Drones You’re Looking For

 

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