The construction industry is evolving rapidly with innovations and changes to traditional methods. Tomorrow’s forward-thinking building engineers, architects and builders will soon need to master various cutting-edge machinery and technologies in order to gain a significant edge in this highly-competitive industry.
3D printing is one such example of a new technology that is shaking up the construction industry. Robotics and prefabrication could see more 3D printers deployed on building sites as early experiments the world over (3D printed concrete houses in China, specially-designed robotic systems in Californian building design; the world’s first 3D printed office in Dubai) prove to be successful. Using this printing technology has a number of advantages, not least of which that structures are assembled (rather than built), with no formwork, no surplus and minimal waste (labour costs and construction waste are significantly reduced). 3D’s printing’s potential premise does have its drawbacks – advances with construction-ready materials are still in its early stages and problematic quality control – but from the looks of it, the benefits far outweigh the challenges! At the moment, the average contractor is unlikely to splurge on large-scale, highly sophisticated 3D printers but the future looks bright. This emerging technology is likely to change how we construct buildings and offers further innovations in construction practices.
Small swarm robotics is yet another emerging technology that we’re fascinated by. Inspired by termites, Researchers at Harvard’s Self-Organizing Systems Research Group have built small construction robotics programmed to work together as a swarm. The four-wheeled robots can build brick-like walls by lifting each brick, climbing the wall and laying the brick in an open spot. They have sensors to detect the presence of other robots and rules for getting out of each other’s way. Like termites, no one is ‘controlling’ them, but they are programmed to collectively build a specific design. The applications are intriguing – swarms of robots could build level walls to protect coastal cities against floods or assemble deep underwater gas pipelines.
Drones are also set to be as common on construction sites as trucks and excavator. These small, sophisticated devices have been deployed in our industry for numerous commercial application including examining hard-to-reach areas, efficient site surveys and performing inspections. Cutting-edge drone technology enables its operators to get an aerial view of a building or development, capture high-resolution images and keep employees away from dangerous environments. It also gives builders the opportunity to view a site in real-time progress – all the better for managing resources and keeping projects on schedule. Drones are also likely to revolutionise construction through the use of 3D modelling.
The emerging industrial robotics market has also resulted in new technologies applied to construction vehicles. These vehicles are now being equipped with technology that allows the vehicle to conduct dangerous and repetitive work, with almost no human intervention. Last year, San Francisco company Built Robotics launched its autonomous track loader. The ATL is programmed by moving the robot into position in a stepwise fashion and can work autonomously (digging foundation holes, for example) when given specific parameters. Autonomous vehicles are able to address key construction issues that face the industry today: skilled labour shortages, worker safety and job-site inefficiency.