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30/03/2018 – Technologies in Construction

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

In recent years, technology and modern tools have helped speed up and improve the construction process, but the need for manual labour has always remained constant, but is this all about to change?

Picture this; parts of a building self-assembling, robots performing the most complicated tasks, unmanned machines building houses and drones flying overhead inspecting work, with not a human on site. Right now, it’s not so hard to imagine but only a few years ago we’d have laughed off such claims. Could it soon be the end of working life as we know it? Is the robotic revolution coming and does it have the potential to significantly change the industry?

With technological advances like an automatic bricklaying machine, it’s certainly looking that way. The robot, named Hadrian can lay 1,000 bricks an hour, create an entire house in just two days and has the potential to build up to 150 homes a year.  It works 20 times faster than humans and can work 24 hours a day, without the need to recuperate with a cuppa half way through the day like the rest of us. Bricklaying may be one of the oldest trades, but it’s also one of the most dangerous and time consuming, but with the advance in technology and introduction of robot builders, 12-hour days and a high number of worker injuries may soon be a thing of the past.

But despite the increasing levels of automation being seen on site, so far, the technology is augmenting rather than replacing the human element. Sure, the number of individuals required on site will decrease but I struggle to see a stage where a site is completely human free. Forklift trucks carry many more bricks and mortar than a human worker and a robot might build a house faster, but it just shifts the need for the human element, not wipe it out completely. Rather than laying the bricks themselves they’ll operate, maintain and supervise technology on site. Increasing the use of prefabrication off site in a controlled factory environment will ensure a controlled, accurate component is delivered on site. It shifts the requirement for humans to a different stage of the process. It could create more factory-based jobs at the start of the process rather than replacing the need for workers on site.

The use of technology can improve the level of health and safety within the industry, which has been a priority for many years, which is why I think the use of technology has been accepted by once hesitant employers.

There’s no need to fear technology, the use of the latest digital technology must become the norm if we’re to hit our targets. The ultimate goal is to make construction more productive, cost effective and safer. There’s no intention to remove the need for humans – after all we’re still in the middle of a skills crisis, both human and robotic! Maybe don’t hang up your working boots just yet, the industry still needs you!

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

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