The construction business is one of the largest industries in the world, with an annual market capitalization exceeding $10 trillion. Despite its tremendous potential, many firms are struggling due to a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth, and new data showing that the industry generates immense waste, both in terms of human productivity and physical materials.
Today’s proponents of technology have pointed to a lack of automation and adoption of technology as the primary reasons for the industry’s poor performance – construction is one of the least digitized industries worldwide, and has resultantly failed to significantly increase worker productivity in decades, all while productivity in sectors like retail and agriculture has grown by 1500% or more since 1945.
It’s time to shake things up in the construction industry, and we think that automation technologies are the next big thing that will help construction firms thrive over the next 50 years. In this article, we highlight some of the most important automation technologies that firms can adopt and apply to enhance their productivity.
Drones Used to Conduct Site Inspections & Monitor Inventory
While a reported 200,000 construction jobs were left unfilled across the United States last year, many firms left with worker shortages continued to expend valuable human resources on time-consuming tasks that could be easily managed with the help of drone technology.
Drones are excellent for conducting site inspections, especially on mega projects like skyscrapers or shopping malls where an individual or a team of inspectors could otherwise spend days walking through the structure to analyze safety precautions and progress. Drones allow a single pilot to do the work of many inspectors from a safe, even offsite location.
Drones can also be used for inventory management. Surveyors currently use GPS coordinates to cross-section piles of materials and determine their quantity, whereas a surveyor drone equipped with a camera and lasers can achieve the same thing in just minutes. The result is a significant saving in time and labor costs for the firm, a godsend in an industry where labor is already scarce.
Automation of Prefabricated Home Construction a Growing Sector
Clever housing development firms are pushing forward with the construction of prefabricated homes in special warehouses, where manufacturing know-how, including the use of assembly lines, is being used to enhance worker productivity and reduce costs. In Japan, 16% of homes are built using prefabrication techniques, while in Sweden, the number is a whopping 40%.
Assembly lines proved crucial to enhancing worker productivity in the automobile industry, and the factory environment promotes consistency and quality in production, leading to a better and more consistent final product for the end user.
Factory production is one of the most promising ways of addressing worker shortages. A worker operating a machine that does the building is far more productive than a worker that does the building himself. Prefabricated parts are transported to the construction site and used to construct homes in record time, leveraging existing infrastructure for transportation and warehousing.
Robotics Applications Promise to Enhance Efficiency in Construction
When we think about construction automation, we should think about robotics applications and whether we can use robots to replace work that humans have traditionally done in the construction industry. Investors are already putting millions of dollars into developing robots that will enhance productivity in the construction sector, and leading firms are creating new methods that will revolutionize how the biggest players in the business process materials in the coming decades.
A company called “Construction Automation” recently released a robotic product called “SAM 100.” The robot, whose name stands for “Semi-Automated Mason” is reportedly capable of laying over 2000 bricks per day, compared to a human that might lay just 400. SAM 100 is the first commercially available brick-laying robot and promises to accelerate jobs and enhance profits anywhere it’s used.
Other firms are building automation equipment for the construction industry as well:
Stiles Machinery – This firm builds a product called a multi-function bridge that automates wood-framed panel production. The machine can be outfitted modularly with a variety of tools and performs multiple fastenings at once. It promises to eliminate costly pre-cutting, staging and repeated handling of sheathing materials.
Hundegger – Revolutionizing timber engineering, the futuristic machines of Hundegger Canada will allow construction firms to prefabricate and process timber according to exact specifications. To expand their offerings and impact, this firm’s latest SPM2 Machine Series was built to process OSB, Plywood, Drywall, Cement, Fiber Board, and more.
Trimble – Trimble’s innovation is making amateur excavator operators look like professionals, saving time, and reducing costs with their Earthworks Software. This program integrates with excavators and allows workers to “dig to design” and perform pipework accurately in 20% less time.
With little hope of reversing a long-standing labor shortage, automation technologies are the way forward for the construction industry when it comes to enhancing productivity and boosting profits. The adoption and integration of automation, and the widespread use of prefabrication may be the best opportunities for the construction business to thrive in the next decade.