By Luke Carothers
Automation, AI, and Robotics have been topics at the forefront of conversation in the construction industry for over a decade at this point. What were once steadily growing topics of conversation have now exploded onto the main stage, and everyone is clamoring to predict the impact they will have on the AEC industry. In the construction industry, however, automation and robotics are already making a massive impact on the way projects are planned and executed.
Invented by DPR construction in 2013, “the Laybot” was a robotic solution performing layouts in the field. Despite building two prototype robots, the group wasn’t able to achieve the desired efficiency they had set for their goals, and the project was temporarily shelved. However, this wouldn’t be the end for the promising concept, and, with those two prototype models and a patent in hand, DPR’s innovation team began to look for partnership opportunities. To this end, DPR partnered with a startup who shared its vision, licensing their patent to Dusty Robotics (Dusty).
Dusty’s robot delivers on the original vision and creates new capabilities for the industry at large.
According to Henning Roedel, Robotics Lead at DPR, their digital layout journey began in the early 2010s, with the initial work and invention of Laybot, which was “the first field printer of its kind.” Roedel traces the groundwork done on those first prototypes directly to tools like Dusty Robotics’ Field Printer. Since partnering with Dusty Robotics, DPR has worked to scale Dusty’s technology, which ultimately improves upon the precision and productivity of the Laybot prototype.
From an efficiency perspective, Dusty has greatly improved the efficiency of the layout process. Using robust virtual design and construction programs as a data set, Dusty’s team was able to develop a robotic solution that performs layout with millimeter precision. Such improvements to the layout process benefit the construction industry in both improving the health and safety of tradespeople as well as eliminating mistakes in the process of construction. Mistakes made in the layout process can often compound into problems that have serious consequences on cost and schedule.
Furthermore, using traditional methods, the layout process is time-intensive, ergonomically unsafe, and pivotal to construction projects. This collaboration aligns with DPR’s robotics strategy, which is focused on testing and implementing tools that will reduce the physical nature and repetitiveness of construction work. By doing so, tradespeople can “do what they do best–focus on craftsmanship and solving problems in the field,” says Roedel. Even beyond layout, DPR’s robotics work has been key in allowing foremen to focus on running jobs while also reducing exposure to poor ergonomics. For people working in the trades, this reduces the rate of knee and back injuries and keeps them from getting covered in chalk and dust.
Roedel points out that–as we continue to develop solutions to improve our processes–change is often a difficult process. Specifically within the AEC industry, Roedel says that systematic change is “very difficult because of the number of stakeholders at any given time.” He points to this difficulty as the reason for DPR’s disciplined process of piloting new technologies and addressing barriers in a systematic way. This begins with a simple proof of concept trial to provide confidence in the technology, leading to a wider rollout to test different markets and teams. Next is a business analysis and decision making process prior to wider adoption. Roedel says this is similar to the approach DPR has taken in their recent transition to Autodesk Construction Cloud. DPR has used various Autodesk construction management tools since 2011, and recently decided to standardize all project workflows on Autodesk Construction Cloud. He continues, saying that emerging technologists should reach out to construction companies, visit job sites, and address key challenges in safety and quality. Further, these emerging technologists should use automation to deliver increases in productivity to benefit the industry.
As conversations about automation, AI, and robotics continue to be debated, they almost inevitably boil down to one key point: what will work look like in the future? However, in many places within the construction industry, the future is now, and these technologies are already having a direct impact on projects and productivity. As other parts of the AEC industry develop solutions using these technologies, examples like the work being done by DPR, Dusty’s field printer and more serve as a positive framework for how they can be implemented in a way that improves efficiency and promotes safety.