Preparing for the future

How Automation Can Help Save the Construction Industry

what does productivity actually mean

Digitization is already making an impact on the construction industry. Almost three-quarters of U.S. contractors report using Building Information Modeling (BIM) to create more accurate digital plans and develop more efficient processes.3

Thanks in part to BIM, automated and semi-automated technologies are also making inroads. In fact, these two technologies can work together to deliver even more value. BIM’s digitized workflows, such as Hilti BIM-to-field solutions that layout drilling points and cast-in components like anchor channels, create a mine of construction data that robots can access and utilize. By simply following the BIM process, you’re already creating a robot-friendly jobsite.

Automated and semi-automated machines are most useful when carrying out mundane, repetitive, or dangerous tasks that require accuracy or speed or that exceed reasonable human limitations. Using robots to dig, drill, cut, weld, move heavy loads and pour concrete can help make jobsites more efficient, more precise and safer.

Automated and semi-automated robots can:

  • Allow humans to reallocate their time to more satisfying, high-value tasks
  • Perform strenuous or dangerous tasks that would otherwise threaten the health and safety of humans
  • Perform tasks in harsh conditions unsafe for humans
  • Reduce insurance costs by mitigating human risk
  • Work overnight to slash timelines
  • Help avoid rework due to human error

Examples include:
  • Boston Dynamics Spot, a mobile robot that easily navigates jobsite terrain to perform inspection tasks and collect data.
  • Dusty Robotics Field Printer, which uses BIM data to print full-size floorplans straight onto the building deck.
  • Canvas, an automated drywall finishing machine that has been used at San Francisco International Airport and Chase Arena.
  • Hilti Jaibot, a semi-automated cordless drilling machine for MEP and interior finishing installation work, especially overhead tasks, that can work for eight hours on a single battery charge.

5. “80 Percent of Contractors Report Difficulty Finding Qualified Workers.”

https://www.agc.org/news/2019/08/27/eighty-percent-contractors-report-difficulty-finding-qualified-craft-workers-hire-0

6. “Harnessing Automation for a Future That Works.” https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/digital-disruption/harnessing-automation-for-a-future-that-works

7. “Having Shed Young Workers, the Construction Industry Needs Change.” https://www.buildzoom.com/blog/having-shed-young-workers-the-construction-industry-needs-change

8. “Connected Construction: A Better Way to Build Together.” https://construction.autodesk.eu/resources/construction-connected/

Sounds easy, right?

There are always caveats. Some fear that automation will take jobs away from humans. But the industry is already facing a labor shortage – and employment demand continues to grow, with a shortfall of 430,000 jobs in 2021.4 Automation could help ease that number, especially with low-skilled jobs that are hard to fill.

The key is to combine human and robot talents, a concept known as collaborative robotics. For example, a robot still requires a human to manage its resources and program its tasks, even with BIM helping to streamline the process.

Collaborative robotics can help extend the productivity of older workers who have huge experience but are struggling with the more physical aspects of construction. It can also help contractors – especially those competing for high-quality talent – attract digital-native candidates that otherwise wouldn’t consider working in construction.

And as it stands, humans are still best suited for work that requires delicate, dexterous handling and improvised decision-making. Leave the tedious jobs that demand extraordinary speed, strength and accuracy to the robots.

It’s time to be bold

Acquiring a robot often means making a significant investment in both up-front costs and time learning how to use it and incorporate it into existing processes. When profit margins are low, spending hard-earned revenue on innovation seems risky. And when deadlines loom, no one wants to interrupt inefficient but functioning workflows – even if the long-term benefits far outweigh a short-term need to “just get it done.”

These fears could explain why only 25% of construction firms admit to having a digital strategy, and only 9% say they’re prepared for the digital revolution.3

However, not embracing technologies that can boost productivity is, well, not productive. Companies need to anticipate digital disruption and get ahead of it before their competitors do. Developing a digital strategy can begin with a simple ROI assessment – any contractor able to analyze project data and predict costs can determine if a new tech solution has value.

But companies also need to be bold, which means developing budgets and establishing KPIs that enable their project managers to try new technologies, like robotics, without fear of failure. Those that find ways to identify long-term productivity gains through automation will be far better positioned in the future.