The construction industry, like many others, stands on the edge of green transformation. Demand for sustainably built structures is rising, so construction companies need to find ways to meet these changing preferences. A promising potential solution to this issue lies within another one of the industry’s growing trends—robotics.
Some industries are no stranger to automation, but construction has remained almost entirely manual up to now. As the average costs for robots have declined and their utility has increased, that’s beginning to change. The sector is warming up to robotics, and their benefits could be broader than some realize.
Most discussions about robotics focus on the technology’s advantages in cost reduction and productivity. While those benefits are welcome in the construction industry, they’re not the limit of what robots can do. Construction robotics can also drive sustainability.
Prefabrication and 3D Printing
Prefabrication and 3D printing are some of the most widespread uses for robotics in the construction industry. In an industry where delays occur in most projects, time saved through prefab is critical. On top of saving time, this strategy can help construction companies become more eco-friendly.
Turning construction sites into environmentally sustainable workplaces is challenging, but prefab allows much of the work to occur off-site. When companies produce pieces of buildings in a factory setting, they can use clean energy more readily. Instead of relying on portable, diesel-powered generators, they can access smart grids and solar panels.
3D printing is often a vital part of the prefab process, as it manufactures some structures more efficiently. Since 3D printing is more energy-efficient than traditional methods, this technology further improves the sustainability of prefabrication. As these robotic technologies see more use in construction, the industry will become increasingly eco-friendly.
Efficiency has always been a central selling point for robotics in any industry. Automated systems tend to perform repetitive tasks faster than humans, making them ideal for things like bricklaying. While the cost advantages are immediately apparent, this efficiency also has environmental benefits.
The construction sector accounts for 39 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions, according to a 2017 study. The industry’s tendency toward frequent and lengthy delays plays a major role in that figure. When crews have to work for longer stretches, it means running fossil-fuel-powered equipment longer, generating more pollution.
Robotics’ efficiency means that delays will be less frequent and time-consuming. As a result, overall project times will diminish, leading to less time spent running pollution-heavy machines. As construction robots continue to become more efficient, they’ll contribute even more to emission reduction.
Robots aren’t only more efficient than human workers—they also tend to be more accurate. In the medical industry, some robots have proved 10 times more precise than trained surgeons. Even at a fraction of that exactness, robots can provide substantial waste reduction benefits.
High precision enables construction robots to reduce waste, which improves a company’s sustainability. Since they make fewer mistakes, they save both time and resources, which would otherwise hinder construction’s green efforts. By consuming fewer resources and running machinery for shorter periods, construction firms reduce their environmental impact.
As the construction industry adopts practices from lean manufacturing, it could see higher robot adoption rates. Waste reduction is a central tenet of going lean, and robots have a knack for it. Like in other areas, the sustainability benefits in lean construction also translate into economic savings.
RPA and Data Analytics
Not all robots in construction are physical machines. Robotic process automation (RPA) is arguably a more popular form of automation for the industry. These software robots automate tasks like data analysis, which construction companies can use to go green.
As construction sites incorporate more data-gathering technologies, they get more actionable insights into improving their operations. RPA can analyze this data to find novel ways for companies to reduce their environmental footprint. Beverage giant AB InBev has applied RPA to environmentalism with promising results, setting an example for the construction industry.
Finding new ways to go green can be challenging for people to do by themselves. Automated systems, on the other hand, are adept at making reliable predictions from disorganized data. They can find paths toward sustainability that human analysts might not have considered.
The Future of Construction Is Both Automated and Sustainable
The construction sector is undergoing several widespread shifts, and these will rise as they complement one another. As building firms adopt robotics in pursuit of operational efficiency, they’ll simultaneously realize environmental benefits. When more companies realize how wide-ranging robots’ advantages are, they’ll pursue it further.
Historically, the construction industry has been both inefficient and damaging to the environment, but robotics is changing that. Automation and sustainability will come hand-in-hand for the sector, and this shift will happen sooner rather than later. Construction companies in search of sustainability should look no further than robotics.