Transforming the Worksite: How Automation in Construction is Changing the Game

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Key takeaways

  • Challenges such as labor shortages, budget overruns, operating inefficiencies and security risks are driving the adoption of automated solutions. 
  • Automation is being used to address dull, dirty and dangerous tasks, and for applications such as prefabricating, printing buildings, monitoring vehicle performance and fuel consumption and securing sites 24/7.
  • By adopting automation, businesses can benefit from safer workers, faster timelines, fewer errors, minimized delays from unplanned maintenance or inefficient fuel usage, faster execution of tasks with less possibility of error, and better site security.

For a long time, productivity in the construction industry could be described as “slow and steady.” According to McKinsey & Company, unlike agriculture or manufacturing, productivity in construction stayed relatively flat from 1947 through 2010. That’s changed significantly over the past 13 years. As more companies adopt automation, the industry has seen productivity skyrocket. Which is great—but it comes with challenges as well.

Between labor shortages, budget overruns, operating inefficiencies, security risks and more, work can get more complicated than it needs to be. Fortunately, automation is here to help—and there are a lot of ways companies could benefit from implementing automated solutions. Let’s look at some examples of how automation is being used in the construction industry:

Handling dull, dirty and dangerous tasks

Construction sites are full of time-consuming yet mindless jobs. Consider rebar tying. Rebar work is notoriously slow, a slog for even the most experienced worker. That’s why, when the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation needed to replace Beaver County’s Koppel Bridge, it turned to automation. By using The TyBot, an autonomous mobile robot (AMR) developed by Advanced Construction Robotics, they reduced production time by 30%.

Then there’s welding—another crucial, yet dangerous job, with approximately 2.6 injuries per 100 workers each year. Welders can suffer burns, toxic fume inhalation, eye injuries or worse—even when performing the most basic welds. By handing off the simpler tasks to robots, welders can focus on complex tasks that truly need human attention. Why risk injury to spot weld a pair of steel sheets? 

Automating prefabricating

Prefabrication is another area where robots excel. Parts like trusses or wall panels are easy to make, but across a run of thousands, there’s always the risk of human error—not to mention a whole lot of boredom. Automating part production ensures quality, boosts efficiency and saves money that would otherwise be spent on unnecessary labor. 

Assembling the parts onsite is another matter. It’s far more complex than making a thousand wall panels. Still, businesses like A3 member company House of Design are developing solutions. In time, we’ll see this process become fully automated.

Printing buildings

At first, consumer-facing 3D-printed products were relegated to plastic toys or custom chocolates. The construction industry has found a more practical application: 3D-printed buildings. Done right, 3D printing the exteriors of buildings is more efficient than traditional methods while giving off fewer emissions. And it can be nearly 100% automated. 

Workers only need to be onsite to monitor the printing process. Once the exterior has been printed, they can take over to install the roof and interiors. The results are impressive and scalable. The industry has gone from a 3D-printed proof-of-concept house in China to an entire neighborhood in Texas.

Monitoring and improving vehicle performance and consumption

Construction fleets need a lot of fuel, consumed as efficiently as possible. And construction vehicles need maintenance before problems occur, not afterward. In both cases, automation can help by leveraging the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI.

Picture an excavator with an IoT device monitoring fuel usage. AI software can compare that consumption rate to how much work the excavator got done. If performance is lower than it should be for that period, it can notify the operator, who can change behaviors to stop wasting fuel. AI also excels at predictive maintenance. Imagine that sensors mounted on that same excavator pick up unusual vibrations the operator hasn’t noticed. AI can analyze the vibrations and indicate that maintenance is needed before they become a problem.

Securing sites around the clock

A construction site is a tempting target for thieves. Everything from copper wire to lumber to entire vehicles has resale value and once something disappears off a site it’s hard to get it back. Estimates for rates of theft vary, but the National Equipment Register’s last theft report indicated it costs United States companies up to $1 billion per year. That’s not accounting for damage to equipment and structures or for injuries suffered by the trespassers themselves. Security is essential, but it’s hard to keep a site under active surveillance 24 hours a day. Determined criminals might not be put off by cameras. Faced with constantly swooping drones or an automated patrol robot like DroneDog, on the other hand, most would-be thieves would opt for other targets.

Speeding things up on the backend

The challenges of construction don’t stop at the edge of the work site. Everything from bidding to payroll to tracking of documents consumes time, energy and money. Every hour shaved off those tasks can be put towards giving the operation an edge. AI comes in handy again here, this time through Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA takes high-volume tasks traditionally performed by humans and automates them, ensuring employees only step in when they really need to. 

Think back to bidding—44% of contractors say it takes longer than it did before COVID-19. The right RPA bots can speed that process back up. They might extract key info like specifications, drawings and estimates from bid documents, analyzing and summarizing it all for stakeholders. Data entry, communication with subcontractors and team members, response generation and more are all doable, too. The same goes for everyday matters like payroll and existential considerations like regulatory compliance: if an RPA bot can do it, that’s one less thing for humans to worry about.

How adopting automation can impact your business

Automated solutions offer a host of benefits that can completely reshape your day-to-day: Safer workers, faster timelines, fewer errors and more. The dull, dirty and dangerous work can be handled by robots. Delays due to unplanned maintenance or inefficient use of fuel will be minimized. Tasks from bricklaying to welding will be executed faster, with less possibility of error. And at the end of the day, you can sleep soundly knowing your site is secure.

Whatever challenges your business might face, odds are good that there’s an automated solution. To see these solutions in action and find ways to give your business an edge in the market, join us at the Automate Show in Chicago, IL, from May 6–9, 2024. You’ll get a detailed look at the current state of automation in the industry—and see where it will take construction next. Register for the Automate Show for FREE today.

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