Robots May Be Coming to a Job Site Near You

Anyone who looks into the future of construction and yawns is not paying attention.

Mon June 22, 2015 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

It can take a while for a new tool or new way of doing something to be embraced by a company or an industry. This especially is true when the new thing is a dramatic departure from the old. With change coming at blistering speed so far in the 21st century, an open mind is important for any construction industry leader wanting to stay ahead of the pack.

Moving dirt or erecting steel-and-mortar buildings are pretty settled sciences. The work is elemental and construction principles are firmly rooted. New machines come along that dig deeper, pave faster, or haul greater loads but don’t really alter basic methodology. Consequently, some minds grow numb to emerging possibilities. That’s a dangerous mindset.

Telematics, for example, is a machinery tracking and servicing program of tomorrow that already has arrived. Yet many companies and contractors hesitate to turn over their fleets to such long-distance monitoring. Until it is more widely adapted within the industry, telematics remains a “futuristic” idea.

Or robotics. Unmanned machines still qualify as a new thing, even though drones are beginning to be employed in look-down inspections, and some earthmoving equipment is being fitted with robotic control units for computerized grading. Robotics is a nascent technology, but its rise is inevitable. Industry leaders should be incorporating the technology into their 10-year plans.

Then there are the really big ideas that could outright change the character of construction. Some of these disruptive technologies and systems are challenging the status quo in manufacturing. Additive and distributive manufacturing concepts, for instance, are scrambling traditional notions of central assembly lines and materials sourcing and other fundamentals.

Applied to construction, what would these systems mean? Well, contractors might chemically harden pervious rock that’s native to a job site and build with it instead of hauling in rock from an off-site pit. That change alone could alter traditional sourcing of construction materials and handling of overburden, sharply reduce trucking, introduce new types of rock-processing equipment, and change the methodology of building roadbeds.

Anyone who looks into the future of construction and yawns is not paying attention.


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