Discover the Unique Power of Robots in Data-Driven Construction

by Emily Newton

After years of slow progress, the construction industry is finally embracing digitization and Industry 4.0. Firms are waking up to the need for data-driven construction, which will change the sector for the better. However, the role of robots in that shift is easier to overlook.

Compared to other aspects of Industry 4.0, automation has yet to gain the same foothold in construction as in other sectors. Much of this is because many construction processes are difficult to automate, thanks to their unpredictability. Still, construction robots are starting to emerge, and could become key to data-driven workflows as they become more common.

The Need for Data-Driven Construction

Regardless of the industry’s state of automation, data-driven construction is imperative. Schedule and cost overruns are the norm in this sector, 31.4% of which come from unrealistic planning. Resource and information issues account for another 19% and 16%, respectively. Data is the solution to all these obstacles.

Construction data trends will reveal where delays, unexpected costs and safety incidents are most typical. Organizations can then respond to these insights to prevent similar issues in the future. Similarly, acting on real-time data can prevent accidents and other emergencies to make sites safer and more efficient.

Data-driven construction can inform more sustainable or efficient building designs. These changes help the sector meet today’s demands for ongoing success and profitability. Data centricity enables agility — something the slow-moving construction industry has historically lacked but needs as other sectors advance with increasing frequency.

How Construction Robots Drive Data Initiatives Further

The construction industry can’t ignore this potential. While it can and will benefit from data initiatives apart from robotics, construction robots can take these advantages to new heights. Here’s how.

Generating More Data

The most straightforward impact of robots on data-driven construction is they create more data to analyze. Machine learning models may require millions of data points in some cases to deliver accurate results. Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can provide some of that information, but connected robots will produce much more, helping firms get the data they need faster.

Every time a robot acts, it creates a recordable digital record of it. This can include information about the task itself, as well as robot-specific operational factors and other influencing elements like temperatures or material data. Sensor-equipped robots can even generate data on what goes around them, including on their human coworkers.

Construction robots are more than just another data-collecting opportunity. Because they automate core tasks, they provide data relevant to a company’s specific applications. This relevancy will lead to more helpful insights and effective takeaways.

Acting on Data

In addition to creating more data, robots can respond to data-driven analytics. Amid all the excitement around data-driven construction, it’s easy to forget that data is just a resource. It’s only as effective as how businesses use it. Robots automatically adjusting to new data is an excellent use for this powerful component.

Robotic forklifts or other automated equipment can respond to real-time IoT data to learn where employees are, preventing collisions — one of the most common injuries in construction. Alternatively, robots could analyze the materials they’re working with to detect potential flaws that may jeopardize the project’s safety. They could then alert managers to switch out the resources, preventing accidents that could result in injuries or rework.

Over time, construction firms could reprogram robots based on historical data, too. That may look like ensuring they pay more attention to a specific process, or leaving more room between them and employees to prevent run-ins. These ongoing improvements help the sector get more value from their data.

Creating Room for More Data Initiatives

Robots also aid data-driven construction by justifying further investments in data technologies and processes. While these machines carry high upfront costs, they minimize expenses and boost efficiency in the long run. As a result, construction firms will have more to spend on data initiatives.

Automation’s impact on safety is a prime example. Modern equipment like spider excavators can already safely work in relatively extreme conditions — like slopes up to 60° — and automation makes them even safer. Robot versions remove humans from the equation to eliminate the chance of injury. Fewer injuries mean less lost productivity and fewer workers’ compensation payments, enabling firms to spend more on data technologies.

Considerations for Implementing Data-Driven Construction Robots

Construction firms hoping to capitalize on these benefits should keep several things in mind. As beneficial as robots are for data-driven construction, they also carry unique challenges businesses must address to achieve their full potential.

First, construction companies must grapple with automation’s costs. Mitigating upfront expenses and maximizing returns is largely a matter of applying robots where they’re most impactful first. Modular construction may be an ideal starting application. Prefabrication centers are more easily automatable, so they’ll incur fewer costs and produce faster returns before firms expand robots to other workflows.

Data cleanliness and quality is another key consideration. Construction companies should keep robot data at the forefront of their minds when choosing automated systems. Robots with more reliable sensors and interoperability with other IoT devices provide more data richness, so they’re preferable to potentially cheaper alternatives in the long term.

As these robots start generating data, companies must cleanse it before analyzing it. Inaccurate data can kill any initiative, but it’s more dangerous when it directs heavy machinery like construction robots. Software automation can help in this area by cleaning and organizing data before it goes to analytics models to minimize human error.

Finally, construction firms should consider their robot’s impact on the workforce. Job displacement may not be as big a concern as it initially appears, as the industry is short roughly 500,000 workers and fewer young professionals are entering the sector. However, employees may still feel uncomfortable about rising automation. Upskilling and focusing on cobots instead of human-replacing solutions may assuage these fears.

Construction Robots and Data Go Hand-in-Hand

As the construction industry hones in on data’s potential, it can’t overlook robots’ role in data-driven workflows. Robot data will take analytics benefits further, and unlock new safety and efficiency standards.

Implementing construction robots is far from simple and likely won’t be viable on a large scale for a few years. However, if the sector keeps these future goals in mind and sees automation as a data tool, it can make the most of this technology.