How Automation and Robotics Can Ease the Labor Shortage
Raffi Holzer is the CEO and founder of construction software platform Avvir. Opinions are those of the author.
After more than a decade of recovery since the Great Recession, the construction industry is now facing another severe labor shortage.
The pandemic has hit the construction workforce on all fronts. This has accelerated the pace of baby boomer retirements while causing a large resignation among younger workers who might otherwise fill the ranks. Workers who have remained in the industry are battling the medical and financial fallout from the pandemic, creating an increase in unexpected furloughs.
Meanwhile, as more people retire earlier than expected and Millennials enter their peak household-forming years, demand for home construction and renovations increases. It’s estimated that the industry will need to add 2.2 million new workers over the next three years to keep pace.
To address this labor shortage, the construction industry must find a way to do more with less. Automation and robotics technology offers a way forward.
Automation allows skilled workers to focus on critical tasks.
Finishing the installation of drywall is a notoriously laborious and tedious task. On some sites, a robotic arm is used to glue, spray and sand drywall surfaces.
The system eliminates human error and can reduce the process from seven days to two, while keeping workers safe in the field and alleviating common cases of musculoskeletal disorders associated with heavy labor. Significantly, the system allows workers to focus on critical tasks that require critical thinking and a human touch.
Across industry, robots perform similar routine and dangerous tasks: laying bricks, paving roads, drilling overhead, and more. For teams understaffed due to the labor crisis, entrusting these tasks to robots saves hours in their days and meets project deadlines.
As with most emerging automation technologies, human teams are still required to operate and supervise the drywall robot. While robots can be programmed to undertake more complex tasks, no amount of robotic autonomy can replace the critical thinking capacity of humans. The future of construction will not be one where robots replace people, but one where robots work alongside people to make their jobs safer and more efficient.
Reality capture and reliable data systems increase efficiency.
It’s estimated that bad data caused $1.8 trillion in losses worldwide in 2020 and could be responsible for 14% of avoidable recoveries. In that same study, 30% of construction professionals said more than half of their data was bad and unable to offer actionable insights.
The problem is familiar to anyone who has managed a construction site, where inaccurate measurements and incomplete fields can hamper efficiency. A “5” typed in instead of a “6” can be enough to cause costly delays and rework.
New technologies mitigate human error and provide site managers with unprecedented visibility into their projects. High-definition photography renders high-quality 360 images while LiDAR systems can deliver unprecedented detail, accurate down to one-eighth of an inch. Mounted on walking or flying drones, these reality capture systems collect data in a fraction of the time required by human crews using tape measures, photographs and visual inspections. On a construction site in northern californiarobots equipped with 3D cameras were able to scan floors 50,000 feet in as little as 20 minutes.
State-of-the-art software can then map this data onto Building Information Modeling (BIM) systems, linking the real world and the system intended to record it. While most recording systems are delayed and inaccurate, this new technology creates a hyper-accurate, near real-time replica of as-built conditions.
Using machine learning, this “reality system” can be likened to building blueprints to identify inconsistencies as they arise, allowing project managers to fix the problem before a full-scale redesign takes place. be necessary.
Safety technology means fewer injuries and less wasted time.
With unscheduled sick days and quarantine days becoming more unavoidable, understaffed teams cannot handle the additional lost time due to on-site injuries.
Robots can prevent unnecessary injuries by performing the most dangerous tasks required on site. Flying drones, for example, can scale heights to perform site inspections. Prefabrication systems allow construction on the ground in controlled environments, increasing both quality and safety.
Using automation of the four most common causes of construction accidents – falls, electrocution, getting caught between objects and being struck by objects – can significantly reduce related injuries at work.
Embracing automation will draw young, tech-savvy workers into construction.
Let’s face it: the construction industry has an image problem. With a median worker age of 41, the industry fails to attract young workers. With Gen Z and Millennials now making up nearly half of the American workforce, that needs to change.
The presence of robotics means fewer people are needed on site, but it also requires those on site to receive highly specialized training in AI, automation, systems technologies and more. Embracing emerging technologies will provide career paths in AI and robotics while helping rebuild the image of the industry as modern and tech-driven.
The technology will also increase safety and reduce the physical burden on workers, which will appeal to Gen Z and Millennials who prioritize working conditions. The net impact will be renewed interest from young workers and a healthy pool of talent.
Embracing automation does more than lessen the impact of continued labor shortages. By attracting younger workers, this could help reverse the trend itself.