The increasing usage of robots in construction originally stems from Japan in 1970’s when young workers turned resistant to manual labour in favour of less dangerous and physically demanding work. Japan had to find another solution to combat the labour shortage and turned to automation and robotics to stem the shortage.
The skills shortage is affecting the construction industry on a global scale. According to a report by Turner and Townsend in 2019, 66% of the global construction market is reporting a shortage of skills contributed partly by the fact that robotic technology failed to be adopted into construction methods.
As well as addressing labour shortages, robots also address the issue of worker safety by removing human involvement in many tasks. Construction is an industry with the highest number of human fatalities and injuries reported, and automation can assist in reducing risk to workers and also free up more of their time whist robots take on the heavy, tedious tasks.
Robotic bricklayers may even be common sight in post-Brexit Britain as many developers turn to robots to combat the shortage of workers. Robotic bricklayers can have the capacity to lay 3,000 bricks a day, – that’s 10 times the number of bricks the average labourer can lay. Research from Altus shows that a survey of over 400 major developers showed that 47% of UK firms predicted disruptive change from the use of construction robots, compared to just 34% of companies globally.
Drones are another robotic invention that is growing in use in the UK and are assisting in the surveying, inspections and monitoring process during construction. Today, 41% of British developers are predicting disruptive change compared to 28% globally.
Altus Group director Ian Wimpenny said: “With EU net migration having fallen to its lowest level since 2012, and record employment, contractors are already struggling to fill vacancies and close skills gaps, so it’s unsurprising that UK developers are more open to disruptive technologies to keep Britain building post Brexit.”
The current labour shortage is preventing progress in many areas such as new roads, wind farms, solar farms, energy pipelines and new homes. It is likely that automation will take on the most dangerous and repetitive jobs so that workers safety is at the forefront and they can dedicate themselves to learning new skills in other areas.
Once the industry has mastered the day to day tasks that labourers do, the next step will be to evolve robots into automating construction tasks that are currently challenging in terms of design and performance.
Robotics and automation have the potential to revolutionise the industry and provide many advantages that were previously impossible. Having already proved how effective they are in the automotive industry in reducing labour costs and improving efficiency, this begs the question as to if traditional construction methods have now reached their limits.
With robotic technologies having the potential to address the issue of productivity in construction, a shift will be required to make adoption more mainstream if we are to manage the skills shortage.