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Can Robots Replace Construction Workers?

There was a report nearly four years ago, with Balfour Beatty making a bold forecast. Rubbing its crystal ball, the UK’s biggest construction firm predicted that, by 2050, building sites would be largely devoid of people. Royal Clean doubt this will be the case as there are simply still a need for people to certainly carry out cleaning jobs. Yes to more automation and more efficient cleaning equipment, but there will still be a need for human operators.

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)

The report goes on to say that in this brave new world, robots would work in teams to build some sections of projects, while other parts would self-assemble, and drones would inspect the work. Humans would be reduced to the role of observers, monitoring multiple projects via 3D and 4D data.

Some advances are being made in construction. Last year, HS2 unveiled an impressive looking industrial robot – called Krokodyl – to be installed on its tunnel-boring machines. Its job is to tackle potentially risky tasks, such as removing wooden spacers between heavy concrete tunnel segments that humans normally do by hand. It can also lift big segments with ease.

Image credits: Align JV (Krokodyl, Dobydo, Innovation, TBM, South Portal)

Crossrail has also used a robotic rig to drill holes in concrete tunnel linings, working with 3D laser surveys of the tunnels to boost accuracy. Aerial drones are also becoming more common for site inspections especially for surveyors, roofing and scaffolding contractors.

So how could robots play a part for UK construction firms? A factory setting would be the obvious first step in the move towards automation in construction. Offsite factories, pre-fabrication and modular construction as part of modern methods of construction would certainly be the area for growth and feasibility.

Ultimately, the barrier to widespread adoption of robots and robotics is cost. So as long as it still costs ‘less’ for a human to do the work, then that renders using robots being unviable. So a robot floor cleaner may sound a great idea in principle but if it costs more than employing a gang of 2 floor cleaners, then we’ve still got a job!

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