COULD superfast 5G mobile networks deliver the construction industry with its own industrial revolution?
That’s because one big change 5G is likely to bring is a decrease in the reliance on human labour and an increase in the use of robotics. The near future looks like one where robots will work alongside regular employees, undertaking the heavy handling, and the tricky, repetitive, onerous work.
Robots step up in Japan
In Japan, this is already happening. There it is partly to do with an ageing workforce and a decline of building industry workers that has seen those working on the tools fall to around 10% for under 30-year-olds.
One company, Shimzu, is already using robots to weld steel columns, insert hanger bolts and install ceiling panels. The robots operate autonomously, performing jobs assigned by a supervisor on a tablet – and without needing to sleep, they can work around the clock. One of its robots worked on a high-rise development in Osaka where it transported gypsum board pallets overnight from the ground floor to where they were needed.
Shimzu has invested $US179 million since 2015 developing construction robots and has reduced manpower needs for a given task by 70–80%.
5G will support new-generation robots
The company currently controls its robots using 4G mobile and wifi, which means that, when it works on buildings over 200 m high, it has to extend the wifi network area using relays.
The arrival of 5G will change this. Robots could then carry out hazardous or repetitive jobs on remote or difficult sites without needing wifi, providing the 5G network extends that far.
Better connectivity will enable multiple robots to cooperate and to learn from each other. Small robots could swarm, working together on different parts of a task. An example of swarm robots already exists – at Singapore’s Nanyang University, a 3D printing system is being developed where multiple mobile robots concurrently print a large, single-piece, concrete structure.
5G will pave the way for a new generation of robots, free to roam controlled via wireless rather than wired communication links and exploiting the computing and storage resources of the cloud.
With these capabilities, robots can be controlled dynamically in near real time and connected to people and machines anywhere.
An example of 5G’s impact on the construction industry can already been seen in the liaison between South Korean wireless telecommunications operator SK Telecom, Hyundai Construction Equipment and Trimble, who have joined forces to collaborate on its use.
The three companies plan to develop solutions for remote construction equipment monitoring, real-time safety management and AI-based construction operations.
The aim is to create construction equipment that will operate longer and also reduce overall construction time to increase efficiency and save costs. Another benefit will be minimising occupational hazards.
Hyundai Construction Equipment makes excavators and forklifts, while US-based Trimble provides navigation and modelling services for construction firms.
In the short term, the three will make intelligent construction equipment and use various sensors for safety. They will then use 5G to detect defects in construction equipment and create a management solution allowing construction to proceed unimpeded.
They will also apply AI into planning, measuring, pricing and building to increase operation efficiencies during construction. Trimble will also develop a technology that uses drones to measure geography and turn that information into digital data.
While it’s not here yet, mobile, wireless 5G services are expected to be available in countries such as the UK, China and Japan towards the end 2019 and pick up over 2020.
Articles are correct at the time of publication but may have since become outdated.