What are the Barriers to Adopting Robotics in Construction

July 31, 2023

The construction industry stands at the threshold of a remarkable revolution, fueled by rapid advancements in automation and robotics. Automated layout in construction can shorten construction timelines, improve trade layouts, and even reduce injuries. As cutting-edge robotic technologies interact with every aspect of construction, their transformative impact on the industry is undeniable. 

However, the construction industry, known for its resilience and adaptability in the face of evolving challenges, has paradoxically been slow in embracing the potential of robotics and automation. While certain construction companies have eagerly welcomed software solutions like Building Information Modeling (BIM) to streamline their operations and improve collaboration, others have lagged behind in harnessing the power of automation.

There are many reasons for the construction industry’s hesitancy to adopt robotics and automation, often relating to resistance to change, as well as negative experiences with technology in the past. Today, we will address these challenges and guide you through the changing construction landscape to overcome these barriers and start improving your construction projects with automated layout. 

Top Barriers to Adopting Robotics in Construction

1. Cost and Return on Investment

Implementing robotic systems in construction often necessitates an upfront investment, which can be a barrier for small construction companies. The cost associated with purchasing, deploying, and maintaining new systems can quickly add up, making it financially prohibitive for organizations with limited resources.

One of the challenges in justifying the investment in automation is demonstrating a clear and tangible return on investment (ROI) within a reasonable timeframe. Construction projects typically have finite durations, and companies need to assess whether the financial benefits generated by implementing automated solutions will outweigh the initial and ongoing costs within the project timeline. 

Quantifying the impact of automation on project efficiency, labor savings, and improved safety is essential in building a compelling business case. However, due to the complexities inherent in construction projects and the variability of site conditions, accurately predicting ROI can be a challenging task. 

To overcome this barrier, consider the opportunity costs of not implementing robotics and losing out on the benefits of automation. For example, automated layout can reduce rework by as much as 75%, which can result in thousands of dollars in savings on construction projects. 

2. Safety Considerations

Construction sites present various safety hazards, including moving machinery, heavy equipment, and unpredictable working conditions. Ensuring the safety of workers and integrating robots into this environment may seem like a challenge.

However, integrating robots leads to substantial improvements in site safety. With automated layout, such as that created by the Dusty Robotics FieldPrinter®, you can actually improve site safety. Automated layout creates precise and accurate positioning of elements, improving cross-trade collaboration and reducing the need for rework. By fully-automating layout, you can save your workforce from having to bend over thousands of times per day to manually mark the floor, which helps to prevent repetitive stress injuries. In addition, with less rework required for construction projects, there are fewer instances of exposed wires and dangerous site conditions, further improving safety.  

Construction robotics can offer real-time monitoring and safety alerts, as well as enhance site visualization for construction team members. By leveraging automated capabilities, construction sites can achieve improved safety outcomes, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries while optimizing project efficiency and quality.

3. Resistance to Change

The construction industry has traditionally relied on manual labor, which can cause resistance to adopting new technologies. Skepticism, fear of job displacement, and lack of awareness about the potential benefits of automation may hinder the acceptance and implementation of automated solutions.

Skepticism often arises due to unfamiliarity with automation and robotics and a hesitation to disrupt traditional construction practices. Construction professionals who have been accustomed to relying on human labor alone may view the adoption of robotics as a daunting and uncertain prospect. Questions about the reliability, performance, and adaptability of automated systems can create uncertainty and trepidation. This can cause construction teams to resist change and maintain a preference for familiar, manual methods.

But automation is coming, whether companies like it or not, and success will depend on recognizing and overcoming this resistance. The labor shortage, declining productivity, and the looming threat of recession mean that companies need to be more efficient and do more with fewer resources. Working with robotic systems, like automated layout, can make construction jobs easier and more profitable, with less repetitive labor. This will keep your workforce healthier and safer, and will create more time for the skilled aspects of construction work. 

4. Lack of Flexibility

Construction projects often involve unique and customized tasks that require flexibility, as well as collaboration and teamwork among various trades and skilled workers. The ability to communicate, coordinate, and make adjustments on the fly is crucial for seamless project execution. Some construction professionals fear that automation cannot achieve the level of flexibility and improvisation required in complex construction environments, however, the opposite is true. Advanced hardware and software solutions facilitate better on-site and off-site collaboration by establishing a shared source of truth with the ability to automatically share and implement changes. 

With Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) software, changes to designs can be assessed by other trades in real-time, enhancing communication and collaboration. The Dusty FieldPrinter brings this collaboration directly into the field, empowering trades to access the coordinated model and flexibly customize the information included in each trade’s automated layout. 

By automating layout, construction professionals can be even more flexible with what’s included in layout, something that is not possible with the limited options of markings for manual layout. For instance, the Dusty FieldPrinter introduces the option to print room labels, enriched line styles, and complex circular elements that better adapt to the needs of each unique project. 

5. Lack of Specialized Workforce 

It is a misconception that the successful integration of automation requires a skilled workforce of specialists who can operate, program, and maintain robotic systems. You don’t have to be a skilled roboticist to operate automated systems; you just need to choose a user-friendly automation solution and have a basic understanding of software. 

Basic knowledge of construction software and hardware are becoming increasingly prevalent on construction sites, establishing a new baseline of expectations for skilled workers. While systems like the Dusty FieldPrinter are easy to learn, Dusty even offers training programs for construction professionals. Thanks to the ease-of-use of the solution, and access to training, there’s no need for specialized roboticists to get started with automated layout. 

How to Overcome the Barriers in the Construction Industry

Despite these barriers, there are simple solutions in place to overcome what may seem like a daunting task. Here are the top 7 ways that the construction industry can overcome these barriers.

  1. Embrace Education on Robotics: Educate industry professionals about the advantages of robotics adoption, such as increased efficiency, cost savings, improved safety, and enhanced decision-making capabilities. Introduce them to individual robots like the Dusty FieldPrinter so that they can learn what each type of construction robot is capable of, and show them how these capabilities can be leveraged across their construction sites. 
  1. Collaborate for Internal Buy-In: Work closely with automated solution providers who have expertise in the construction industry. These partnerships ensure that the adopted automated systems are suitable for construction tasks and can effectively address the specific challenges faced by the industry.

    You should also be aware that your workflows will need to change in order to adopt automation. A good automation solutions provider will be able to coach you through these changes, helping you develop a new process that includes all the benefits of automated solutions.

    Additionally, it’s important to get buy-in from stakeholders inside the organization, from leadership to field crews, helping boost morale and ensure everyone is on the same page and has a voice. This involves engaging them in the decision-making process, addressing their concerns, and emphasizing the positive impact that robotics and other automated solutions can have on their work and the overall success of the organization.
  1. Test the Waters with Pilot Projects: Begin with small-scale implementations. Choose specific areas or projects within the organization to pilot robotic applications. By starting with small-scale implementations in specific areas or projects, construction companies can assess the feasibility, performance, and benefits of automated applications firsthand. 
    This approach allows for testing, evaluating, and fine-tuning the technology before broader implementation, reducing the risks and uncertainties associated with adopting robotics on a larger scale.
  1. Create a Long-Term Plan: Construction companies should develop a clear roadmap that outlines the goals, timelines, and implementation steps for incorporating robotics into their operations.
    This roadmap should align with the overall business strategy of the organization, ensuring that the integration of robotics supports and enhances the company's overall objectives.
  1. Identify a Strong Leader: Find someone in your organization who can advocate for the technology and help overcome the barriers to adoption. This leader can help overcome resistance, drive change, and ensure that the necessary resources and support are provided for successful implementation. Their expertise and influence can help address concerns, educate others, and create a positive environment for robotics integration
  1. Allocate Budget Outside of Projects: Use part of your budget to focus on deploying robotics technology and experimenting with it outside of a dedicated project. By setting aside funds for robotics initiatives, construction companies can explore and invest in suitable robotic systems, conduct trials, and gather valuable data and insights to inform future decisions and investments.
  1. Understand Your Needs: Don’t become enamored by shiny new technology that you will not benefit from. Identify what problems need solving and what tech can help solve those issues. Focus on identifying your specific needs and challenges, and then seek out robotic solutions that can effectively address those issues. Taking a problem-solving approach ensures that the adopted technology is purposeful and brings tangible benefits to the organization.

Future-Proofing Your Construction Company

Despite these barriers, there is a growing recognition within the construction industry that the integration of robotics is inevitable for long-term success. Construction leaders are starting to realize the need to adapt to the changing landscape and leverage robotics and automation technologies to gain a competitive edge. For instance, leading construction companies are already using automated layout to compress schedules by weeks to months. It will be imperative for other construction companies to integrate these tools into their projects in order to stay relevant and efficient in their construction efforts.

By embracing an automated solution, construction companies can streamline processes, reduce manual labor requirements, and accelerate project timelines. These technologies offer the potential for increased precision, accuracy, and consistency in construction tasks, minimizing errors and rework. Moreover, robotics can help address labor shortages by augmenting the existing workforce, enabling companies to undertake more projects and meet project deadlines effectively.

Construction leaders recognize that integrating automated solutions and robotics is a necessary step to enhance operational capabilities, optimize resource allocation, and deliver projects more efficiently, ultimately leading to improved client satisfaction and business growth.

Discover how Skanska, one of the world’s largest construction and development companies, used automated layout to reduce rework by 75%.

Dusty Robotics Team
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July 31, 2023