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While sectors like auto manufacturing have been using automation and robotics for years, the construction industry has lagged significantly by comparison.
Slowly but surely, that is starting to change, as start-up companies, research facilities, and long-established construction companies are debuting automated and robotic construction systems. Below are a few emerging examples of automation and robotics in construction, as well as where this technology could be taking us.
Construction is known as an industry driven by manual labor. With robots being able to work longer, faster and harder, construction labor is a prime candidate for automation.
The New York State-based Construction Robotics company has automated masonry with its SAM100 robot. The newest version of this robot is capable of laying as many as 350 bricks per hour. Using input from a human technician, the robot can also build using either a conventional brick pattern or soldier courses. The SAM100 system has been used in highly-visible projects and with large contracting companies, handling more and more labor-intensive projects as the bricklaying workforce get smaller and the average age of bricklayers increases.
A more ambitious use of robotic labor is expected to be seen in the construction of the Dübendorf’s Next Evolution in Sustainable Building Technologies (NEST) facility at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, which is intended to be a mainly digitally generated structure. One of the assets used is a robotic arm on tracks called the Fabricator. The robot will be used to build a metal framework of bars that will subsequently be filled in with concrete to create a structure. The robot is capable of producing a framework that curves and undulates, enabling the creation of non-rectilinear structures.
Down the road, small robots will likely be taking over much of the heavy lifting and transporting on construction sites. Able to carry as much as the typical human and the size of a medium-sized suitcase, the Gita robot by Piaggio Fast Forward can follow around a user while transporting cargo. The robot maps its environment as it travels, allowing for automated return trips.
In addition to robotic labor that works independently of the human body, there’s also the possibility of construction bionics. The EKSOZeroG Robotic-arm from Ekso Bionics’ can lessen the repetitive motion and stress ailments brought on through the use of heavy-duty power tools, such as jackhammers and hydraulic drills.
Drones are a superior solution for performing site inspections, particularly on large projects like skyscrapers or manufacturing facilities. Typically, one or more inspectors must spend days touring through an entire structure to assess progress and safety risks. Drones allow for the same work to be done but with a single pilot instead of a team of inspectors. Furthermore, a drone pilot could be located in a safe location, one that is possibly even off-site.
Iconic construction business Caterpillar recently made significant investments in this area, most notably with drone-software developer Airware. The investment is intended to enhance and automate job-site analysis concerning heavy equipment effectiveness in various working conditions.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing has been used in construction to fabricate walls for a few years now. With some methods, walls are fabricated in sections and transported to a location. Other systems fabricate on-location. For example, the Building On Demand (BOD) system from Copenhagen is a gantry-based 3D printer able to put down concrete layers in 50- to 70- millimeter increments at a rate of 2.5 meters per minute.
The United Arab Emirates-based Cazza aspires to disrupt the entire construction industry with a system of 3-D printing cranes that can put down nearly 2,200 square feet of concrete a day Made to dramatically reduce the quantity of time and labor required for construction projects, the Cazza system has been selected to create the world’s first 3-D-printed skyscraper, in the UAE.
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