Are Robots the Answer to C&D Labor Shortages?

robot demolition siteIndustrial demolition and construction companies are hurting for skilled workers more intensely than in the past.

While just 13 percent of homebuilders five years ago had trouble finding labor, those experiencing labor shortages have since expanded to 82 percent today. In the meantime, the demand for new homes keeps climbing.

Portland demolition contractors are seeing similar trends in their backyard. The local construction economy is booming. However, local skilled workers in a range of trades from electricians to carpenters are becoming scarcer to find. Jobs are taking longer and getting more expensive to complete. Some Oregon subcontractors are having to turn down bids because they don’t have the labor needed for the job.

In this climate, robots are playing a larger role in construction. ABI Research expects the number of industrial robots overall purchased in the United States to skyrocket by 300 percent over less than a decade. Demolition companies in Portland may want to keep an eye on robots’ evolving role.

Benefits of Robots to the Construction & Demolition Industry

From drones to 3D-printed homes, robots are performing construction tasks with more precision, lower costs, and less waste than human workers. According to one report, they can cut down 100 percent on waste, 55 percent on labor and 25 percent on financing.

Robots can perform dangerous jobs.

Robots can perform repetitive and sometimes dangerous labor like running a bulldozer or inspecting buildings with lower risks.

  • Swedish demolition companies are using “robo-demo” equipment to comply with rules that limit how much time people can spend on tools like jackhammers.
  • Long-term use of such vibrating equipment has been linked to nerve damage, so robots help keep workers out of harm’s way.
  • Demolition companies in Portland have used to drones to make surveying hazardous and difficult areas safer.

Robots also save time.

  • One California mining plant uses a Kespry drone that can measure rock and sand piles over a 90-acre site in just 20 minutes. As the Associated Press reports, the task used to take all day with a laser-system-mounted truck.
  • An Australian bricklaying robot works 20 times faster than a human and can build 150 homes in a year.

Where Robots Fall Short

brick laying As the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers notes, bricklaying robots, like the $400,000 Semi-Automated Mason, can’t mimic the craftsmanship of professional bricklayers.

Furthermore, robots may save money in the long run and are getting less expensive as they become more ubiquitous, but they’re still expensive upfront. Smaller- and medium-size construction companies may not be able to afford the steep startup costs of purchasing robots, meaning only bigger firms will be able to take advantage of the technological revolution underway.

Robots have not yet replaced traditional methods, but they will shape how industrial demolition and construction sites look into the future. Increased automation makes people’s jobs different; they have to retrain to run robots. Companies may need to replace lower skilled workers with more specialized ones.

To be sure, construction robots have great potential to relieve growing labor shortages. If they can navigate initial startup costs and workers’ training, demolition companies in Oregon may do well to integrate robots into their practices soon.

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