MasterBuild Africa

Robotics in Construction

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The construction industry is constantly seeking ways of improving output while ensuring efficiency. One of such technological advancement is the use of Robotics in the construction industry. Robotics refer to the use of robots in place of human beings in the construction or manufacturing process.

As used in the fields of mechanical, structural and electronic engineering, these robots provide a safer alternative to manpower. The technology of robotics is all about the design aspects of these robots: their manufacture, operations, uses and the computer systems that control these robots.

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The Current Status of Robot Use in Construction

Construction is a universal human activity that primarily seeks to create physical artifacts and in certain instances, personalised capital goods. Robotics have not been extensively used in construction as it is in manufacturing because it is carried out in open air, using naturally occurring components. Moreover, the environment where construction takes place is unique and in most situations require plants to be fabricated on site in a rather ad hoc manner.

The last few decades have seen the introduction of mechanical engineering systems and machines into the construction industry. This has been fuelled by the need to gain more product efficiency and the plummeting relative costs of machinery as compared to labour. Globalization too has left the industry with an overall increase in the number of construction plants.

The presence of low-cost computers as well as advancements of the microprocessor and sensing technology have now made construction robots more than just technical and economic possibilities. In fact, this technology is now recording a steady growth in the construction industry everywhere, including Africa.

Robotics can be used to accomplish several construction processes including the identification of construction requirements, planning of the project, design and engineering, construction, maintenance and other allied operations such as decommissioning. During the construction process, robots can be used in handling and positioning large components in a building site. Other notable uses are finishing interiors and handling connecting activities, finishing exterior walls as well as doing finishes on large horizontal surfaces.

Independent Robotics is also applicable in 3D printing, robotic construction systems and unmanned drone aircrafts used in laser scanning and obtaining measurements in construction sites.

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Robotics and African Construction Methods

Developments in technology have been received with mixed feelings and Robotics is no different. Many have associated it with loss of jobs in the sectors it is deployed in while others see it as a means of enabling workers to achieve increased efficiency. Robots can improve both production and quality. They also increase safety in the workplace helping cut costs associated with healthcare and insurance. Initial investments related to them are however high and limiting the ability of entrepreneurs to invest in them. Running them also requires that staff get specific training; this requires both time and financial input.

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The Future of Robotics in Construction

Self-assembling buildings and brick laying robots may not be very far-fetched if developments in the industry are anything to go by. 3D printing is in its gold rush state and very soon building teams will be able to print an entire building using this technology. Drones too are important and show signs of becoming even more important in the future. Research and development of drones able to complete extensive visual inspections of construction sites are at very advanced stages. Controlling construction equipment using Global Navigation Satellite System and GPS will soon be possible as well.

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