They say that you have to spend money to make money. But sometimes it’s what you don’t spend that makes all the difference in the bottom line.
Picture an excavator, tearing up the ground as you begin your next major construction project. It’s an expensive piece of equipment, but one you can’t do without for a job like this. But there’s an additional cost that you might want to take a second look at: the human sitting at the controls.
The average heavy equipment operator makes roughly $30 per hour. Compared to everything else you’re spending money on—materials, equipment maintenance, other labor, construction software—that may not seem like a significant expense.
But considering that a typical profit margin is in the area of 2%, even if you’re pulling in $5 million in annual revenue as a small construction firm, your profits would only be about $100,000 annually.
If that excavator operator is working full-time for you, you’re paying about $60,000 per year. Imagine if you could simply pocket that? That’s the opportunity presented by construction robotics.
Manually operated equipment is expensive because it requires labor on top of equipment costs, so construction robotics offer an incredible opportunity to save money.
Construction managers should begin a pilot program to implement one piece of construction robotics in the next quarter. This way, you can create a plan for the widespread use of automated equipment and save substantial money on labor in the near future.
Here are five examples of construction robotics to get you started.
1. Material-placing robots
Laying bricks and other material is long, monotonous work, and you may be hiring multiple people to do it. A bricklaying robot could alleviate the need for human laborers, who would then be freed up to do more valuable tasks.
Industry example: Construction Robotics offers the MULE, or Material Unit Lift Enhancer. The company says this robot can lift and place material weighing up to 135 pounds. The MULE picks up items straight from the pallet and the moves it to the location where you want it, carrying virtually all of the weight and requiring minimal hands-on attention from your workers.
Prefabrication has entered the mainstream in construction as a way to greatly increase the efficiency of a construction project. With prefabrication, which often utilizes technology like 3D printing, construction managers can build entire sections of a structure ahead of time and then simply fit it into place, reducing the need for human labor.
Industry example: Modular company Prefab Logic announced earlier this year they would build a $102.5 million automatic volumetric modular construction factory known as Autovol in Idaho. The company says the factory could crank out at least 1,600 modules per year and it would aim to fix the affordable housing crisis on the West Coast with multiunit modular homes.
3. Mold creation
Creating concrete molds is a necessary part of any construction project, and it’s often a detailed and painstaking effort that requires lots of man hours. However, the industry has developed new robots that use innovative ways to create these molds without the need for humans to do the work.
Industry example: Danish company Odico Formwork Robotics offers a robot that uses a technique known as “hot wire cutting,” which enables it to create complex concrete molds that would normally take a lot of human labor to produce.
4. Tying rebar
Tying rebar is another example of monotonous and painstaking work that is ideal for a robot to take over. Not only are you paying tens of thousands of dollars to have humans do this work, but oftentimes you can’t move on to the next phase until this part of the project is done. Robots can not only do the work more cheaply, but also much more quickly.
Industry example: A robot appropriately known as TyBot can tie rebar automatically, all with just one worker on hand to monitor the operation. In late 2017, it debuted on the Freedom Road bridge project in Pennsylvania, tying more than 24,000 rebar intersections at a rate of 5.5 seconds each.
Why not give your workers a helping hand? Rovers can follow workers around carrying tools and materials so they don’t have to waste time traveling back and forth on the job site, which can significantly improve your workforce’s efficiency. They also don’t have the large up-front cost of some robotics.
Industry example: The EffiBOT from French company Effidence can do a number of different jobs on a construction site, from following around workers with necessary tools to transferring materials from one part of the construction site to the other with minimal human involvement. It can do all the heavy schlepping so workers can focus on the more important tasks.
Take steps now to start a construction robotics pilot program
Every construction firm is different, but after reading this article you’ve certainly thought of something that a robot could do on your job site. Now’s the time to take action. This is a long-term effort, and the sooner you start it the sooner you can enjoy lowered costs and therefore higher profits.
- Choose one robot that shows the most promise for your construction firm that you could integrate on the job site in the next quarter.
- Meet with the primary stakeholders and draft a conservative pilot program to implement the robot slowly, filling only a supportive role and assigning someone to monitor it at all times.
- Draft a report after the pilot program is finished and determine how it could be fully implemented into your construction project.
- Use the data you have gathered from this one piece of robotics to come up with a larger plan to increase the involvement of other construction robotics technology into your company’s operations.