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Building Information Modeling (BIM), a technique where digital, 3D building designs and construction plans are used to guide and monitor construction processes, has had a major impact on the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industries, saving professionals in these sectors both time and money. Aside from enabling clear visualization, BIM has helped enormously with coordination between different sectors, always providing accurate, up-to-date information about the project.
Another exciting industry that will change the face of the AEC industry is robotics. Surprisingly, robotics and BIM can benefit one another. Robots can handle mundane or dangerous tasks, improving safety increasing performance on the construction site. The Building information model could be used as a kind of map for the robots working on site.
Advantages of Using Robots in AEC
There are many ways in which robotization can change the construction workflow. Obviously, robots could cause some human jobs to become obsolete. However, the benefits are far greater, and could even include the emergence of whole new job opportunities.
For starters, much like BIM itself, robots could assist in making some construction processes more efficient and cost effective. BIM helps AEC firms save time and money by mitigating the chances of miscommunication and costly setbacks.
Robots save time and money by taking on tedious manual tasks that are also dangerous. As they require minimal assistance and supervision, there is little need to hire a huge team of people to supervise them. More importantly, robotization mitigates the risks of expensive errors, as well as minimizing the possibilities for fatal accidents. They can even be used for long hours in harsh conditions. Today, AEC firms are using robots today as safety inspectors, looking for people without hardhats or simply documenting conditions.
Here are some ways in which robotization can help accelerate and improve the BIM workflow:
- On-site Monitoring – There are robots designed for terrain and object inspection. They use sensors and other technologies to detect problems and help keep the building information model up-to-date.
- Assisting with Mundane or Dangerous Tasks – Robots can help with carrying heavy loads, digging, drilling, cutting, parts assembly, and other tedious but unavoidable tasks.
- 3D Printing Full Structures – Aside from robots that can 3D print building models, there are also robots that can 3D print actual metal structures.
- Helping Achieve Sustainability – Some robots are designed to save energy by constantly managing the building’s temperature, lighting, air quality, etc.
- 3D Printing Complex Components – There are robots that can 3D print portion of the building with greater speed and accuracy then current manufacturing processes.
Robotization mitigates the risks of expensive errors, as well as minimizing the possibilities for fatal accidents.
Examples of BIM-Based Robots Today
BIM has not only helped with job coordination but also turned out to be a great database for construction robots to utilize. Here are some shining examples.
- The Husky A200 – In 2020, Fraunhofer Italia announced that they are working on a robot to assist with the logistics on construction sites, the Husky A200 mobile robot. This machine can transport tools and other heavy loads from one location to another. It uses sensors and lasers to navigate around the site and follow the workers where necessary. Moreover, it can adapt to the ever-changing environment and detect obstacles.
- Hyundai’s Elevate – One of the most recent innovations is the result of a collaboration between Hyundai and Autodesk. Debuting back in 2019, Elevate was meant to be a UMV or ultimate mobility vehicle, moving both using wheels and on four legs. Thanks to its agile anatomy, this robot can navigate any terrain and withstand the harshest of weather conditions. In addition to helping people with disabilities move, Elevate could also be the future of construction, rural exploration, and disaster rescue.
- The Hilti Jaibot – Hilti, one of the leaders in construction tool manufacturing, released its first robot in 2020 — the Jaibot. In essence, the Jaibot is a semi-automatic machine that can assist with drilling. It promises greater speed, accuracy, as well as safety for the plumbers, electricians, and others who may use it. What’s more, it’s quite easy to use and, being that it’s relatively small and cordless, it’s also quite flexible. Therefore, it should make overhead drilling much less of a strenuous job than it usually is. Finally, the Jaibot can work for up to 8 hours without having to recharge.
- The GE Tunnel-Digging Robot – This impressive machine is the result of a collaboration between Penn State University and General Electric Company, with funding provided by DARPA. The earthworm-inspired design provides the robot with outstanding agility and speed. Current reports state that digging a 100m long tunnel with a diameter of 10cm should take only around 15 minutes. In addition, by exerting strong pressure while digging, the tunnel-digging robot can penetrate through extremely compact soil. Such a machine can easily find its place in infrastructure inspection and repair, soil inspection, and much more. And the best part is that it doesn’t require any heavy and bulky digging equipment.
- The MX3D Printer Robot – MX3D is creating robust and easy to use robotic additive manufacturing technology, enabling users to 3D print large objects in metal. In one case, with a 3D printing robot, an entire bridge was created solely by the robots. After 18 months of thorough planning, the bridge was successfully printed in metal using robotic printing arms.
What Does the Future Hold?
Considering the rapid technological growth we have seen thus far, we can expect robots to play a major part in the future of AEC. They currently may not be able to design spaces that cater to our needs like a human designer can, but perhaps we can teach them to do so, one day. Robots can and will most likely replace humans in essentially all tasks that require precise mathematical calculations, super fast reactions, and those things that people simply no longer want to do.
About the Author
Roger Liucci is a senior BIM specialist at Microsol Resources, an Autodesk Platinum Partner in their New York office. He has provided BIM implementation, support and training to architectural, engineering and construction firms for over 20 years. Roger is particularly interested in the interaction between design and technology innovation as it relates to digital fabrication and cloud computing. Among his software specialties include Autodesk Revit, Navisworks, 3ds Max Design and Rhino. Roger studied Environmental Architecture at Arizona State University and SUNY Farmingdale. He has given talks on building information modeling and technology innovation at Autodesk University, AIA seminars, as well as various Revit User Groups.
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