workers will need to determine when it will get to that point and be ready to
step in so the robot doesn’t have much downtime. They will also need to make
sure the robot has access to materials, a clear workspace and any necessary data.
“There will be a learning curve for early adopters,” Mr. Peters says. But once
automation is integrated into the project planning and management process,
it will drive benefits for the project team and stakeholders. “Robotics can help
construction owners leverage the talent they
have, so that everyone can be more efficient,”
Not all team members will see the robots
as a benefit at first. “Any time you introduce
robots, there is the fear that jobs will be lost,”
says Jonas Buchli, PhD, a professor at ETH
Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland. Dr. Buchli was
part of a project team that built the In-situ
Fabricator, a robot that can perform tasks
including laying bricks.
While robots like the fabricator can lead
to reduced head count, the real goal is to
automate the dangerous and menial tasks so
workers can focus on more high-value work.
“Robots will never take over the construction
site completely,” Dr. Buchli says.
Instead, they could benefit companies
struggling to fill lower-level roles and help
workers avoid on-the-job injuries.
“In a traditional building site, safety and
quality are difficult to control,” says Kathrin
Doerfler, PhD, another member of the In-situ project team in Zurich. The Fabricator
“provides great accuracy.” —Sarah Fister Gale
It’s no wonder construction project leaders are turning to
robots: The industry’s talent shortage is a problem around
the world. Almost 45 percent of organizations that
undertake major capital construction projects struggle to
attract qualified labor, according to the KPMG 2015 Global
Construction Project Owner’s Survey. Japan’s construction
industry faced a shortfall of 230,000 workers last year,
according to Japan Today.
“Large contractors are now refusing to take on new
work, or [are] taking on only larger, more profitable
jobs,” John Mader, senior project manager at Lendlease
Japan, told the online newspaper. “In some instances,
construction schedules are being extended because of
the labor shortage.”
In the U.K., the two most sought-after roles are
engineer and construction worker, according to a 2015
Recruitment & Employment Confederation/KPMG report.
And in the U.S., 86 percent of construction firms reported
skilled labor shortages in 2015, up 30 percentage points
from 2013, according to consulting firm FMI’s 2015 Talent
Development Survey in the Construction Industry.
HUMAN HELP WANTED
“Any time you
there is the fear
that jobs will be
lost. Robots will
never take over
—Jonas Buchli, PhD, ETH Zurich,