UKCW 2018

NEC BIRMINGHAM   09-11 OCTOBER 2018

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Brickies, sparks and chippies could find themselves out of jobs by 2050 thanks to the rise of robo-builders, with construction sites becoming virtually human-free zones.

The prediction comes from infrastructure giant Balfour Beatty which has gone future gazing to predict what the industry could look like in three decades’ time.

The FTSE 250 company admits its vision “may seem far-fetched” but notes that “digital technology has revolutionised contemporary life to such an extent that it’s not so hard to imagine radical changes for construction”.

Building sites of 2050 will have autonomous cranes and diggers, and robots working in teams to build structures using new interactive materials which may even repair themselves, according to Balfour.

Some structures will even self-assemble, while fleets of drones will fly overhead, constantly monitoring work to check it is up to standard, and collecting vast amounts of data to produce 3D and even 4D models which can be analysed by computers to identify problems before they occur.

If humans do get a look-in on site, they are likely to be wearing “exoskeletons” which use neural technology. This monitors brainwaves and could be used to control the machines and robots actually doing the physical work.

Balfour believes it’s more likely that human involvement will be limited to monitoring what the robots and other machines are up to from remote control bases where they might oversee several projects at once.

The rise of the machines would likely eliminate many low-skill, low-wage jobs on site and there would be fewer people required in other less labour intensive positions, says Balfour. This would be bad news for the 2.6m people currently employed in the sector according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

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However, Balfour does expect advances in technology to drive a need for more specialist skills and “digital natives” to operate ever-evolving technology, meaning the construction industry would increasingly find itself competing with tech companies for staff.

Advances in construction are likely to be driven by politically driven demand for complex infrastructure, a move aimed at stimulating sluggish economies according to Balfour.

Another force behind the move to automated building sites is population growth and urbanisation, creating the need for construction work to be more productive and efficient — areas in which machines excel.

“We are experiencing a digital revolution, redefining how we as an industry operate,” said Leo Quinn, chief executive of Balfour. “By adopting and embracing the rise of digital solutions we are more able to deliver efficient, effective and safer solutions to our clients and customers."

The predictions echo the thinking of the CITB, which acknowledges the growing role technology plays in the sector.

Gillian Econopouly, the board's head of policy and research, said that offsite construction could revolutionise the industry, as well as "create new roles and the need for more workers with attributes like creativity, problem solving and agility, alongside digital skills.

"Technology also offers a big opportunity to attract new entrants into the sector – particularly young people who naturally integrate digital platforms into their daily lives.

“We are also seeing opportunities to integrate new technologies into construction training itself – so using plant simulators for a safer, more environmentally friendly way to train plant operatives, or training workers to fly drones to assess roofs and other structures at height. “

Source: The Telegraph

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