Keeping an Eye on Robotic Construction
Construction robots can’t do everything, but they can help manage labor costs and unavailability.
Since May 2019, the change in the cost of final delivery construction — the prices paid to domestic construction firms — has increased by more than 42%, according to a GlobeSt.com analysis of government Producer Price Index data. Supply chains are better and prices on basic materials like lumber are down 79% from their nose-bleed highs in May 2021. Costs of construction components can still be pricey and not all supply chain woes are completely settled.
But labor is still high, and availability is tight. There are too few people willing and able to do the work. What can companies do? Automate.
Suffolk Technologies, a venture capital firm that focuses on new technologies for construction, architecture, real estate, and infrastructure, recently hosted its Robotics in Construction 2023 event in its Roxbury, Mass. headquarters.
“While the construction industry is not known for driving innovation and change, we are living in a new norm where increasing efficiencies and improving productivity are absolutely necessary for managing successful projects and providing real value for clients,” a release quoted Suffolk Chairman and CEO John Fish as saying. “At Suffolk, our mission is to redefine the way the world builds. To accomplish this ambitious goal, we must bring together the most visionary, forward-thinking leaders and organizations in the industry to share ideas, drive conversation and leverage our most creative ideas to transform the built world through groundbreaking technologies and solutions.”
The firm partnered with MassRobotics, a robotics advocacy group, as well as vendors Autodesk and Hilti. Some of the firms pitching their ideas:
- Rugged Robotics — autonomous vehicles that mark architecture and engineering designs directly on unfinished floors.
- Element Exo — exoskeletons to help workers lift items without back strain.
- Reframe Systems — modular components and robotic micro-factories drive down costs and completion times for multifamily buildings.
- Cleo Robotics — unmanned aerial vehicles that collect data through inspections in areas that are dangerous, difficult to reach, and unavailable to GPS.
- Renovate Robotics — using robots to do roofing work at heights for greater productivity and safety.
There are many companies working in such areas. For example, robots that can follow designs and lay bricks or mud and sand drywall. Many of these technologies are meant for larger scale jobs. The cost can be prohibitive to have a system do a smaller building. There are also types of work that aren’t going to be easily automated because they’re too irregular.
But automation is coming and the economics, and especially lack of available human labor, might make it inevitable.