Lean construction processes are aimed at creating value with fewer resources and less waste. Quality, safety and scheduling are key to the success of lean methods. Considering the skilled labor shortage the industry is facing, reducing wasted labor is especially critical.
Quality and Schedules
One example of the way robotics are being used in the construction industry is by collecting information from a jobsite and comparing it to the project’s 3D BIM model.
Robotic machinery can travel through a construction site, using laser scanners to automatically scan and inspect conditions in real time. While there may be conditions, like weather or darkness, that impede people from conducting inspections, an all-weather, self-propelled robotic machine can continuously collect data indoors and out throughout the entire project.
The collected information can then be compared to the BIM model as often as needed to determine if the project is on track. Combined with artificial intelligence (AI), data collected by the robotic device can provide actionable data about the quality of work and the project’s schedule. As reported in a 2022 ConstructConnect article, AI can discern what a building component is based on its shape, size and location, even if only a portion of it is visible.
You can see a video of a rechargeable autonomous robotic vehicle in operation at the Robotnik website.
Materials and Labor Economy
Collecting jobsite data on an automated, continuous basis combining high definition cameras, LiDAR and even drones, can identify errors faster than human inspections might, diminishing materials otherwise needed for rework. Lean comes into play when a robot can help optimize the use of construction materials and labor.
The ConstructConnect article explains that robotic heat welders have been commercially available for a number of years. There are already robots working on construction sites that can lay 1,000 bricks per hour.
On a bridge project, once the rebar has been laid out and with only one person’s oversight, a rebar tying robot using AI can move along a gantry and autonomously tie the rebar together at the intersections. As explained in a Construction Junkie video from World of Concrete 2020, robotic production of rebar layouts is an overwhelming time saver, tying up to 1,000 ties per hour, as well as eliminating tedious, back-straining work.
HP describes a robotic layout machine that can save on labor by performing digital layouts and printed text, even on bumpy surfaces, using 2D files in the cloud derived from BIM models.
Demolition Labor and Safety
Construction site demolition can be done with remote controlled robotic machines, which have been in use since the 1980s. As they have become more sophisticated, the machines can be operated by demo crews from a distance, removing them from the dangers, dust and debris of the demolition process. In addition, fewer laborers are needed onsite to complete demolition when using robotic equipment. With the ability to maneuver robots into spaces that are tight and unsafe for people, remote controlled demolition has been saving labor and improving safety.
When it comes to demolition, human insight will likely always be needed to foresee potential subsurface obstructions like post-tensioned cables, utility lines or other obstructions. But a demolition crew using robotic machines can combine that human insight and expertise with the power of machines for safer, more effective results than manual demolition.
Robotics are already making construction work easier, safer, faster, requiring less human labor. As these examples show, lean construction processes using fewer resources, less labor and less waste can be achieved successfully through the use of robotic machines.