Most industries are beginning to see the effects of increased automation, with leaps and bounds being made at the moment. From manufacturing to healthcare, autonomous equipment and machine learning software is leaving its mark. Businesses in all industries use accounts payable automation software to save time and capital. This new technology is necessitating a re-evaluation of the role that humans play.
Construction is no different, with a growing number of autonomous solutions being adopted to improve productivity, cut costs and ease safety concerns. Those outside of the industry may not be aware of the major upheaval that is occurring at the moment, so here is an exploration of automation in this context and the ramifications it will have in the years to come.
Drones And Diggers United
The process of operating heavy equipment on construction sites has always been limited by a number of factors. From excavators and other earth-moving machinery to jib cranes and lifting gear, for all the benefits that such heavy duty hardware offers, the drawbacks of requiring human operators to be behind the controls at all times have been perpetually apparent.
In many cases, errors actually originate at the management level. This means that poor decision-making can lead to greater problems lower down the food chain. However, automation is helping to iron out these kinks through a combination of land-based and airborne equipment. The most prominent use of AI-operated unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), excavators and bulldozers have been seen in Japan, where thousands of sites in major cities are being made safer and more efficient as a result.
It is important to note that for the time being, the system which combines UAVs with heavy machinery is not entirely autonomous; human operators still oversee everything and ensure that no unexpected issues arise which the equipment cannot detect or deal with.
Even with this caveat in place, the deployment of artificial intelligence to drill down into the vast amounts of data that the drones capture in real time and relay this to the equipment to dictate subsequent maneuvers is impressive. Entire areas of land can be mapped in full 3D in a quarter of an hour, while stereoscopic cameras and satellite positioning chips mean that every individual part of this system can both see obstacles around it and also ping its precise location to every other machine.
Most impressive of all is the fact that these interactions occur in real time, with the power of modern microprocessors and the speed of connectivity meaning that there is no real lag between a decision being made by the software and the hardware then enacting this change. Movements of machinery can be orchestrated from the air and accidents can be avoided in a tiny fraction of a second. In comparison, the response time of a human operator will seem treacle slow. The artificial intelligence industry produced AI-operated drones that currently fuel construction automation improvements.
3D printing technology has become mainstream in the past decade. Hardware is entering the consumer market and commercial equipment providing a variety of applications in the business sphere. Construction companies have not been overlooked in the development of this marketplace, with various benefits associated with the technology when compared with older approaches to building.
Once the design of a structure has been developed and finalized on a computer, this information can be fed directly into large scale 3D printing rigs. Then, it can run along a preset course, creating dwellings from scratch using concrete and other materials.
We are a long way from seeing 3D printed skyscrapers of course, since there are limitations to the technology in its current form. But for domestic residences, automated 3D printing is a far more viable solution; one which could eventually do away with the need for laying bricks, constructing wooden frameworks or even digging foundations.
Aside from the lower labor costs and the improved speed with which buildings can be erected, there are other benefits of industrial automation in this context. For example, it is sometimes simpler to use a 3D printer rig in remote areas where transport links are limited, as well as to bring esoteric designs to life which might have been too challenging to build using other methods. 3D printed homes are already a reality in some areas.
Manufacturing has made use of robots for decades. Businesses grow with robotic process automation software and other robotics technologies. Despite the achievements made throughout the business world, the construction industry has been surprisingly slow to catch up. This is presumably because in the context of a production line, having highly dexterous and undeniably expensive automated equipment makes more sense, whereas the often chaotic environment of a construction site is not suited to such kit.
This is likely to change in the coming years, with various robotic systems being put into action across the globe by construction operators that are looking to future-proof their operations at a time of economic and political uncertainty.
Once again, it is necessary to look to Japan to see the most groundbreaking work in robotics, both in general and specifically in relation to construction. There the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology has demonstrated a worker Bot that could effectively step into the shoes of human employees. It has legs, arms and a durable frame that lets it grip and maneuver building materials.
The shift towards robots is not just an advantage from the perspective of improving construction site safety and keeping people out of harm’s way. It is also about making up for the fact that many countries have a shortage of human workers available to complete the various large scale projects that are already in progress or are being planned at the moment.
Of course, the impact on the jobs market will be significant, with a PwC study suggesting that almost a third of roles in the construction industry will be hit by the rise of autonomous technologies in the next decade.
Industries which are vital to construction, such as transport, will likely be impacted on a larger scale and in a shorter time frame. The emergence of self-driving trucks is expected to take place within five years, at which point it will be possible to automate a lot of the aspects of construction, including the delivery of materials.
Some experts argue that while the jobs market may change, automation could actually create more roles than it renders redundant. Such claims will take some time to be proven in either direction and the march of autonomous technology seems unstoppable. Construction equipment which is reliant on human operators could quickly become obsolete.