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81% of construction companies plan to adopt robots

09 June, 2021

More than four out of five (81%) of the world’s construction companies say they are planning to introduce robots into their operations during the coming decade, partly in response to a growing skills crisis being experienced by 91% of them.

A global survey of 1,900 construction industry CEOs and MDs, commissioned by ABB, has revealed that 44% of them are struggling to recruit construction workers. The builders also want to adopt robots for other reasons include health and safety, and environmental concerns, with each of these factors cited as key drivers for change by 42% of those quizzed.

ABB Robotics believes that there is a potential for double-digit growth in building industry applications for robots over the coming decade. Over this period, the global construction industry is predicted to rise in value by 85% to $15.5 trillion.

ABB suggests that robotic automation offers huge potential to boost productivity, efficiency and flexibility in the construction industry, through a variety of applications including:
• automating the fabrication of modular homes;
• building components off-site;
• using robots for welding and material-handling on building sites; and
• 3D printing of houses and customised structures.

As well as making the industry safer and more cost-effective, robots could also improve sustainability and reduce environmental impact by cutting waste.

“With so few construction businesses using automation today, there’s huge potential for us to transform the industry through robotics,” says Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation business. “Unlike building cars or assembling electronics, many techniques used in construction haven’t changed for generations, so we are developing new solutions to address key industry challenges.

One promising application for robots in the construction industry is to create steel meshes on site
Image: Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich.

“This new customer segment will broaden our portfolio as part of a wider strategy to accelerate expansion in high-growth segments including electronics, healthcare, consumer goods, logistics and food and beverage, to meet the growing demand for automation across multiple industries,” he adds.

ABB is already involved in several pilot projects using robots for construction tasks, including:
• the automated fabrication of timber roof supports, in partnership with Autovol in Canada;
• robotic production of prefabricated modular homes with another Canadian company, Intelligent City, which has boosted production efficiencies by 15% and speeds by 38%, while cutting waste by 30%;
• robotic installation of elevators with Schindler Lifts; and
• using robot welders to automate the fabrication of steel reinforcement baskets on-site with Skanska, thus improving quality, productivity and safety, while cutting the cost and environmental impact of transporting bulky reinforcement baskets to building sites.

ABB is also working with several universities, including ETH Zurich in Switzerland, to develop automated construction technologies. ETH has established the world’s first laboratory for collaborative robotic digital fabrication in architecture.

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