There is hardly any question that the 21st century is bringing about a revolution in construction processes and equipment. Many of the aspects of what’s traditionally thought of as manual labor is changing forever with the introduction of construction robotics and autonomous equipment.
The pace of this change is being amplified by even broader trends in the industry. Perhaps most impactful has been the growing labor shortage. More than 2.3 million construction workers left the industry after the housing crash and recession of 2007 – 2009. And while job growth has been strong in recent years, hiring construction companies are still challenged by a shortage of skilled labor. The pandemic of 2020 has only exacerbated this trend.
Meanwhile, automation and robotics have started to transform a wide range of industries. So, it follows that construction equipment original equipment manufacturers also have begun to adopt robotic solutions to help their customers address the dearth of available skilled labor. The construction job site of the next decade is poised to look less and less like what traditionally comes to mind.
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While autonomous vehicles (self-driving cars) get a lot of buzz in the news, it’s autonomous construction equipment — used on closed sites, away from traffic — that’s made real progress. Such equipment is now being used to excavate, grade, and do other work, all without the direct involvement of a human operator. These autonomous machines use sensors, drones, and augmented GPS to navigate to precise spots on a site.
Similarly, construction companies are now using autonomous drones and rovers outfitted with cameras and LiDAR technology. This equipment can scan a site daily, then use artificial intelligence to determine progress against a set schedule. All this helps the site supervisors and company managers more efficiently and effectively identify errors and increase efficiency.
This equipment also can be used to inspect dangerous areas of a job site, providing valuable information to help avoid worker injuries and improve overall site safety.
Construction tasks may be challenging to automate, but progress is indeed being made. Robots are now able to handle some of the industry’s most repetitive work. This includes tasks such as bricklaying, masonry, painting, tying rebar, and street laying. Robotics also has been engineered for use in demolition. While slower than human demolition crews, robots are nevertheless safer and cheaper for this dangerous work.
Recently, the first-ever 3D-printed bridge was built in the Netherlands. It was manufactured by a 3D-printing robot that can build large structures using pre-programmed instructions.
According to an article published by robotics.org,
This combination of 3D printing and industrial robots is some of the most promising automation technology in the construction industry.
IoT-enabled “smart” construction equipment uses sensors to gather and transmit data, wirelessly, to other equipment and computers. This data is then analyzed to help human operators and other stakeholders make more informed decisions. It can be used to track how equipment is being used on a job site; artificial intelligence can help optimize the placement of tools and equipment for maximum efficiency.
Using predictive analytics, OEMs can use data transmitted by equipment to diagnose maintenance issues before they happen and provide actionable alerts to dealers and customers. This helps transform OEMs’ value proposition from an equipment supplier/service provider to a fully integrated partner.
This is a time of change and opportunity in the construction equipment industry. Pressured by a labor shortage and other trends, equipment owners are hungry for new ways to operate effectively, safely, and profitably. Through applications involving autonomous construction equipment, construction robotics, and the IoT, this transformative technology promises to deliver.
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This article was contributed by Hydraulics Team.
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