ROBOTS IN COMMERCIAL CONSTRUCTION
Our news piece on 3D printed houses last month got me wondering if there were other types of robots in commercial construction. And it turns out there are. Quite a few in fact; autonomous machines that perform excavation, sitework, bricklaying and even construction management.
More and more construction leaders are turning to an automated workforce. Why? Well, robots don’t take lunch or bathroom breaks, they don’t call in sick, don’t slow down in bad weather and can work 24 hours a day. It’s that kind of predictability and consistency that construction companies need to accurately plan and manage a schedule. Because in the end, time is money.
There is a great video on the BUILT ROBOTICS home page. It shows excavators and bulldozers working in concert, to dig holes for wind turbine foundations. The machines are all driverless; so like self-driving cars, they use sensors and GPS. The team works intelligently off computerized specifications and project building plans. Now, fast forward to the end of the video and you’ll see them working well into the night.
BUILT ROBOTICS is a recent newcomer into the construction robotics arena. But they’re only one of several companies following in the footsteps of heavyweights like Caterpillar and Komatsu; early pioneers in the field. Today, autonomous machines have become invaluable on remote sites worldwide, where mobilizing a crew is difficult and costly. These behemoth robots do the prep work to ready the site, so skilled labor can come in and finish the project.
Last month our 3D PRINTED HOUSES piece focused on just that, houses. But 3D printing bots have crossed the threshold into commercial construction. For instance, APIS COR, a Russian robotic construction company, used the technology to build the world’s largest 3D-printed building. It was a two-story administrative office building in Dubai according to a December 2019 article in BUSINESS INSIDER.
But that is just one example of commercial 3D printed structures that have sprung up across the globe. WINSUN 3D BUILDERS has several projects in their portfolio including highway sound barriers, waterway retaining walls and a municipal office building. And according to the WINSUN 3D BUILDERS website, the municipal office was the world’s first 3D printed commercial building and made it into the Guinness Book of Records.
Not to be outdone by the 3D printing world, FAST BRICK ROBOTICS (FBR) an Australian company, has taken a different approach. Their automated bricklaying system uses a robot and patented Fastbrick Wall System™ blocks to construct the shell and interior walls of a building.
The FBR, Hadrian X® robot completed their first outdoor structure in a real-life environment back in 2019. Although the company planned to transport the Hadrian X® to the US, COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions, forced FBR to temporarily table those plans.
However, FBR is not the only team in the bricklaying game. CONSTRUCTION ROBOTICS has also made their mark in construction with their semi-autonomous robots. SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) the bricklayer can lay 3000 bricks in an 8-hour day. Although SAM can work on his own, he still needs manual workers to perform finishing work and reload bricks into the machine. And for heavy lifting, MULE (Material Unit Lift Enhancer) works with construction teams to handle and place heavy material on construction sites.
Can you image how much time could be saved if instead of field measuring where supports and walls go, all you needed to do was look at the “post goes here” map on the floor? Well, DUSTY ROBOTICS has done just that. They have take the guesswork out of building construction.
According to their website their FieldPrinter can draw the layout of all the building systems on each floor. Sketching out multiple trades so the crews can see what goes where. And make adjustments to resolve issues in real time.
The boom in construction technology isn’t just limited to constructors. In my opinion the most fascinating advance is in construction management robotics. What does that mean? Picture a mini bot the size of a dog or a child sized ATV, prowling a construction site. Scanning the building to capture progress, assess material inventory, identify construction red flags and then report the data back to corporate in real time. SCALED ROBOTICS, DOXEL and BOSTON DYNAMICS are a few companies that are making this a reality.
Up until now, several companies provided drone technology for site inspection, but these new robotic auditors are a game changer. On a typical job site, it may take a general manager hours to compare construction progress against physical drawings, take measurements, note errors and adjust schedules. But with a combination of cameras, laser sensors and artificial intelligence (AI) based technology these micro managing bots can do the same work in a fraction of that time.
Now, DOXEL and Israel-based AI startup BUILDOTS take this technology one step farther. They shrunk the bot to fit on a project managers hardhat. So as the PM walks the project site, the camera captures and analyzes the data.