Is Automation the Future of Construction?
An amazing feat of engineering and the future of construction – or a soulless attempt at efficiency which will cost people their livelihoods and demolish a skilled trade...
Robots are yet to play a really significant role in the construction industry, but the reality is this is going to change as we move into a more automated era. The introduction of robots however will need to be a steady and sensitive one. Construction is a highly unautomated industry in its nature, and the need in construction, for adaptability to any situation that may suddenly occur, in real time, is going to prove a difficult obstacle to overcome.
In saying that, we are entering into a robot revolution - with a number of repetitive tasks in particular, being delegated to these innovative machines.
Robots in Construction - Brick Laying
Types of Construction Robots
The most significant construction robots are currently being used in; 3D printing, brick-laying, masonry and demolition – in particular hydro-demolition.
A robotic arm is capable of controlling a 3D-printer, which in turn uses a set of pre-programmed instructions to print an entire structurally safe building. This same technology is proficient in printing bridges, as seen in Amsterdam, and is some of the most promising technology in the construction industry today.
The brick-laying robots are an efficient tool which improve the speed and consistency of construction work dramatically. These robots can even lay an entire street at one time. While there is no question of their capability to do the job with speed, some question their real time adaptability to problems that often occur on site, not to mention that there is no replacement for the skill of a well-practised tradesman.
Demolition robots on the other hand do not match up to the speed of a demolition crew in quite the same way. They are however a far safer and cheaper solution when it comes to demolishing concrete and structural components of a building at the end of its lifecycle.
Hydro-demolition robots use high-pressure water jets up to 40,000 psi to remove damaged or deteriorated concrete from virtually any structure in need of repair. This efficiency does come with problems- Wastewater created during hydro-demolition has an increased pH level and high turbidity — cloudiness or haziness caused by the presence of a lot of debris particles. The wastewater must therefore be captured and treated before being released into the environment or reused by a robot. This takes up further time, process and money.
The Future of Robots in Construction
While you can commend these construction androids and the brilliance that has gone into creating such efficient machinery - which will certainly help with the back log of work that was put on hold during the pandemic - it could also be argued that they will demolish all sense of beauty in architecture that can be found in real craftmanship by creating very uniform utilitarian buildings, not to mention the possible long term damaging effect they may have on the economy due to job losses. Unfortunately, or not, depending on your point of view - the future does look to be in automation... it will no doubt transform the landscape of the construction industry as we know it, and before we know it.