Integrating Intelligent Construction Equipment and Robotics for Enhanced Efficiency and Safety

By Luiz Filipe Evelin Arruda, Sam Schoenlank, and Antonia Egli (Dublin City University)

The construction industry, representing a significant portion of GDP in most countries, has historically struggled with inefficiencies. However, advancements in digital technologies and automation are driving transformative changes – robotics in particular offers promise in improving safety, productivity, and skilled worker shortages. Despite the potential benefits, challenges such as high capital costs, safety concerns, and the need for upskilling workers remain. Nonetheless, with the right frameworks and assessments in place, intelligent construction equipment and robotics can revolutionise the industry by enhancing efficiency, safety, and quality.

The construction industry stands as a cornerstone of economic development worldwide, contributing significantly to GDP and employment (Davila Delgado et al., 2019). It has nonetheless historically struggled with inefficiencies and safety concerns, lagging behind other sectors in productivity (Davila Delgado et al., 2019). However, with the advent of digital technologies and automation, the industry is witnessing a transformative shift, offering promising solutions to age-old challenges. This evolution is notably spurred by Intelligent Construction Equipment and Robotics (IER), which offers a spectrum of innovative applications across the project lifecycle.

Advantages of Intelligent Construction Equipment and Robotics in Construction and Renovation

IER brings various advantages to the field of construction and renovation, largely comprising enhanced safety, improved productivity, and worker support:

  1. Enhancing Safety: The construction industry faces alarming safety statistics, with high rates of fatalities and injuries (U.S. Bureau of Labor, 2021). IER presents a viable solution to these dangers, mitigating risks associated with hazardous tasks through automation and robotics (Ilyas et al., 2021). From heavy lifting to safety inspections, robots are increasingly adept at executing tasks in perilous environments and thereby reducing accidents (Martinez et al., 2020).
  2. Improving Productivity: Historically plagued by low productivity levels, the construction sector stands to benefit from automation and robotics (Ribeirinho et al., 2020). By automating repetitive and labour-intensive activities, IER solutions not only enhance efficiency but also minimise human errors (Chea et al., 2020). Robotic crane systems, for instance, have demonstrated significant productivity gains in heavy lifting operations (Lee et al., 2009).
  3. Addressing Skilled Worker Shortage: The shortage of skilled labourers poses a critical challenge to the construction industry (Kim et al., 2020). IER offers a viable solution to skilled labour shortages by augmenting the existing workforce and reducing dependence on manual labour (Melenbrink et al., 2020).

Key Applications of Intelligent Construction Equipment and Robotics in Construction and Renovation

IER applications span both on-site and off-site activities, encompassing various levels of autonomy (Saidi et al., 2016). Noteworthy examples include:

  • Additive Manufacturing for Construction: Innovations like the MX3D Bridge showcase the fusion of robotic fabrication and intelligent design, paving the way for industrialised construction (MX3D Bridge, 2020).
  • Automated Monitoring for Inspection: Collaborations between robotics firms like Boston Dynamics and platforms like HOLO BUILDER exemplify the synergy between digital tools and inspection robotics, revolutionising site management (HoloBuilder and Boston Dynamics Launch SpotWalk, 2020).
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for Maintenance: UAVs like Elios are revolutionising maintenance activities, offering unprecedented access to hazardous areas for inspection purposes (Elios Aerial Thermography, 2021).
  • Robotic Arms and Vehicles: From MULE’s flexible lifting assistance to Volvo CE’s autonomous load carriers, robotics is reshaping traditional construction operations (MULE Lifting System, 2021; Volvo CE Unveils the Next Generation of Its Electric Load Carrier Concept, 2020).
  • Exoskeletons: Innovations like Eksovest and Exopush are transforming worker ergonomics and safety by providing power assistance and reducing physical strain (Exoskeletons Trialled on UK Construction Sites, 2021).

Challenges and Barriers of Intelligent Construction Equipment and Robotics 

Despite the promise of IER, several challenges hinder its widespread adoption in the construction industry. These include:

  • High Capital Costs: The initial investment required for deploying IER solutions poses a significant barrier, especially for small and medium-sized construction companies (Davila Delgado et al., 2019).
  • Unstructured Construction Sites: The dynamic and unstructured nature of construction environments presents challenges for IER mobility and communication, limiting their effectiveness (Ardiny et al., 2015).
  • Human-Robot Interactions: Integrating human workers with robots raises safety concerns and requires stringent safety standards and training protocols (McCabe et al., 2017).
  • Skills Training: The need for continuous training and upskilling of workers to operate IER systems effectively adds to implementation challenges (Wang et al., 2021).
  • Cybersecurity: IER systems are susceptible to cyber threats, necessitating robust cybersecurity measures to safeguard against malicious attacks (Clark et al., 2017).

Frameworks for Assessing and Implementing IER

To facilitate the adoption of IER, a systematic framework for assessing its advantages is proposed. This framework evaluates key indicators such as quality, safety, time, and cost to compare the feasibility of traditional methods versus IER solutions (Hu et al., 2021). By providing a quantitative ranking, this framework aids construction companies in making informed decisions regarding the adoption of IER technologies (Table 8.7).

IER holds immense promise for revolutionising the construction industry, offering unprecedented levels of safety, efficiency, and productivity. While challenges persist, advancements in technology and concerted efforts to address barriers are paving the way for widespread adoption. With the proposed assessment framework, construction stakeholders can navigate the complexities of integrating IER into their operations, unlocking the full potential of these transformative technologies.

To learn more about deep renovation technologies in general, you can download the open access book ‘Disrupting Buildings: Digitalisation and the Transformation of Deep Renovation’ for free. In the book, we explore various digital innovations disrupting and transforming the construction sector. To download the full open access book, ‘Disrupting Buildings,’ click here.


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