By Emily Newton
Construction robots have revolutionized the construction industry throughout 2021, with new bots driving innovation and efficiency. The construction industry has faced a unique set of challenges over the last year, grappling with labor shortages, supply chain delays, and a global shortage of concrete in the midst of a booming housing market and a sprawling federal infrastructure plan.
Construction companies need modern solutions to meet these challenges and they’re coming in the form of cutting-edge construction robots.
Drones were among the earliest construction robots to become popular in the industry, and for good reason. These flying robots are extremely useful with many applications in construction. For example, drones are great for conducting site surveys at the beginning of the construction process. A drone can be programmed to autonomously scan the entire site, collecting detailed data that can be easily transferred to a computer for in-depth analysis. With the help of drones, construction companies are cutting down the time their initial surveys take from days or weeks to a matter of hours.
Drones have several applications throughout the construction process, as well. Stakeholders will appreciate the excellent aerial footage that drones can capture for progress photos of the project. Additionally, drones make great security devices. A drone can be programmed to autonomously fly around the site night and day, minus the time it needs to recharge. The camera feed from the drone can be transmitted in real-time to site security officers or an AI security system, allowing project managers to keep an eye on the site 24/7 from a bird’s-eye view.
Despite the concrete shortage, rebar has still been a major part of construction this year. The housing market, for example, has been skyrocketing, causing demand for the building of new houses to also rise tremendously. Rebar is necessary for everything from foundations to driveways and roads. Tying rebar is repetitive, boring, and extremely time-consuming, though. With the construction industry still struggling with staffing shortages, this process costs valuable work hours that can’t go to waste.
The TyBot and other rebar-tying robots have a solution. This robot is suspended from a frame over the construction area and autonomously travels along the grid of rebar tying pieces together with consistent accuracy and reliability. Rebar tying robots like the TyBot make the rebar installation process fast and efficient. The bot could even be run overnight during non-peak work hours so that when the crew arrives in the morning, the site is ready for concrete pouring.
While these robots still have a ways to go before hitting the market, significant progress is being made with robots that can 3D print asphalt. With robots like this, the entire concrete pouring process could be automated, from rebar tying to the pouring of the concrete. Asphalt 3D printers will need to be adapter further for this purpose, but the technology developed so far is incredible already.
The challenge with asphalt 3D printing robots is two-fold: creating a 3D printer that works with asphalt and programming a robot to operate it autonomously. Over the last year, scientists have designed innovative 3D printers that can process asphalt consistently by turning it into tiny beads that are then melted as they pass through the extruder. Designing a robot that can autonomously run the printer is a bit more straightforward since it can be based on pre-existing robots. This bot would be able to scan the ground to detect areas in need of road maintenance then measure the size of the potholes or cracks and print an asphalt patch over them.
This technology could make an incredible impact on road maintenance. Every year, millions of drivers have to watch out for dangerous potholes, which can even cause accidents and inflict serious damage to vehicles. Asphalt printing robots could help make up for the labor shortage in the construction industry so that more potholes can be repaired quickly. Until these robots are ready to hit the streets, though, the industry can help protect drivers by investing in reliable concrete pouring professionals.
3D printing is completely revolutionizing the construction industry. In 2021, the world’s largest 3D printed neighborhood was announced for an area near Austin, Texas. The houses will be constructed with a giant robotic 3D printer designed by construction firm ICON. Each of the houses will feature a minimalist, modern exterior made of strong concrete printed by ICON’s robot. The houses still need human crews to construct the roofs, along with the solar panels that are installed on each house. However, the 3D printing robot does the bulk of the work, resulting in fast, affordable, durable new houses.
This is an extraordinary innovation for a couple of reasons. Primarily, the housing market is rife with sky-high prices that are making owning a home less and less accessible for many. There are simply not enough houses for all of the people who want to buy one. Additionally, the labor shortage in construction makes it difficult to build new houses fast enough to meet demand. Robotic 3D printers that can autonomously construct houses will make housing much more accessible. Of course, the concrete shortage presents a problem for these printers, but once the concrete has been obtained, the construction itself will be quick with minimal waste.
Heavy equipment is at the heart of what keeps construction running all over the world. Robotic heavy equipment is allowing construction companies to make progress around the clock. Several leading equipment companies are working to develop innovative new equipment that’s on track to become the future of the industry.
For example, in mid-2020, Caterpillar acquired robotics company Robotic Expertise, which helped strengthen Cat’s robotics program. In May 2021, Cat’s autonomous mining vehicles hit the 3 million mark in tonnes of materials hauled worldwide. Robotic heavy construction equipment is seeing numerous uses in many corners of the industry. Some are remotely operated while others are completely autonomous. These cutting-edge pieces of equipment could be crucial in closing the gap left by the industry’s labor shortage.
The construction industry is experiencing a time of incredible technological innovation, despite a reputation for being among America’s least-digitized industries. Construction robots are enabling construction companies to grow and thrive despite the challenges of labor and supply shortages. With robots working alongside today’s construction experts in the field, the industry will become the innovative epicenter of the world’s cities and neighborhoods of tomorrow!
about the author
Emily Newton is an industrial writer who specializes in covering how technology is disrupting industrial sectors. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Revolutionized where she covers innovations in industry, construction, and more. Subscribe to her newsletter for the latest articles from Emily.