The construction industry needs a robotic revolution

In debates about the future of workflow technologyoften drawn by villains. One recent study revealed that 38% of jobs in the United States are at “high risk” of automation over the next decade. In the construction industry, forecasts are especially terrible: unemployment estimates due to the fault of robots vary from 24% in the UK to 41% in Germany. Automation will certainly change people's workflows, but for some sectors of the economy, changes have been brewing for a long time. Especially in architecture, design and construction.

Robots that build

For the industry with an annual income of about 10trillions of dollars - about 6% of global GDP - its productivity suffers. Worldwide, an average large construction project takes up 20% more to build than planned, and 80% more expensive than previously thought. Although most segments of the construction industry are single-family housing; multi-family housing; construction of roads, highways and bridges; industrial construction - saw improvements over the past decades (for example, productivity growth rates from 2006 to 2016 were 5.3% in industrial construction), there are many opportunities to improve productivity. Industrial construction should be much more efficient.

There are many factors contributing to lowthe effectiveness of the construction industry; they include low capital investment compared to other segments, hazardous conditions, project complexity, economic disruptions, lack of transparency and corruption. However, one of the biggest obstacles is the lack of skilled workers. According to a study by the Associated General Contractors of America conducted in 2017, 70% of contractors in the United States are trying to hire skilled workers. This is due to the fact that by 2026 the need for hiring in this industry will grow by 12%.

Simply put, automating the elements of the construction process is not only good design, it is also a smart business.

Research in the field of construction roboticsstarted decades ago. During the construction boom in Japan in the 1980s, for example, a shortage of workers forced industry groups to invest in the development of automated systems. This effort was not successful in part because the computational power at that time was weak. And although this part of the technology has progressed rapidly since then, the industry itself is not. A number of the largest companies in the world are still doing everything on paper — from managing orders and supply chains to tracking employee time and pay.

The benefits of building automation are no longerare theoretical; researchers are increasingly proving the value of robots. Borca García de Soto, who joined New York University in Abu Dhabi and led an interdisciplinary team that studies innovations in the construction sector, explores how “digital production” affects productivity during construction. And he believes that technology will save the construction industry.

Comparing the cost and time spent onbuilding walls by humans and robots, they found that as complexity increases, automation begins to pay off. In addition, in the walls built by robots, architects, designers, engineers and contractors had more space to make adjustments in the later stages without a significant increase in costs or delays. Finally, it became known that simpler structures could also be built by humans, more effectively, and this led them to the conclusion that humans and robots would coexist on construction sites for a very, very long time.

And yet, one should carefully draw lessons fromsuch studies. In the real world, every construction project has its own unique problems and complex interactions between owners, designers, contractors, and the public. The wall construction project being studied was fairly simple from this point of view. The only accurate conclusion: the benefits of automation can no longer be ignored.

Some of the construction industry is already thisrecognized. Architects such as Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid were the first proponents of robotic design, and some cities are already vigorously introducing automation. For example, in Dubai, according to the new rules, by 2025 each building should be built using 25% of materials from 3D-printed sources. Even forward-thinking contractors turn to single-tasking robots for jobs such as painting bridges, blasting concrete, welding, tying fittings and repairing roads.

And yet, despite the many advantages, building automation remains a complex process. To move the discussion from the fields to the mainstream, will require a number of key changes.

First, the construction industry needs to be improved.communication processes. Since cost overruns are often associated with gaps in the design and implementation stages, it is important to improve the exchange of information between project stakeholders to ensure technology efficiency. One solution: standardized and automated protocols for building information.

Secondly, the industry should give priorityattention to the effect of scaling when introducing such technologies. Automation will be cost-effective only when tools and methods are widely used.

Third, the industry must strengthen its ratings.project effectiveness. The financial risks from new technologies are greatest when implemented without a proper cost-benefit analysis. Only regular evaluations will maximize the benefits of automating parts of the construction process.

Finally, the government should facilitate the transition.on automated systems. Ultimately, it is the public sector that will determine the place of technology in the construction industry. But at the moment he lacks foresight. In many regions, building codes (often outdated) make it difficult to use 3D printed designs. To fully utilize the potential of automation, municipal regulations and building codes must keep pace.

Although it will take a long time to digitize and automate the construction process, this will be global and the world will change. And you see how? Tell us in our chat in Telegram.