Robotics & automation make way in real estate
By: Realty Plus Bureau
Sunil MK, Head-Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) Division, India & SAARC, Autodesk, shares some of his thoughts on digital fabrication in the construction world and how he sees a significant shift of approach in design towards the Robotic construct internationally.
What is digital fabrication in the construction world and how was it changed the conventional masonry process?
Digital technologies are changing the relationship between design and construction. With computer models, CAD/CAM, and prototyping, designers can gain direct control of building and construction processes. The ability to digitally model designs, and thus to use those models directly in the context of production, creates a synthesis between design and construction. New technologies like BIM are enabling digital design-to-fabrication workflows for all of the building disciplines, including the use of structural building information models. Building design using digital tools requires specific skills in the fabrication processes and new methods and techniques of managing and controlling fabrication for AEC.
How would one incorporate robotic fabrication techniques and automation processes for on-site construction to solve problems in design and construction? To simplify this question, what are the methods of digital design fabrication and how a robot can help build buildings?
Digital fabrication is a concept for an advanced method of architectural production that uses robotic fabrication to bridge the gap between digital design and physical construction. Robots are not limited to just picking huge slabs of concrete. There are projects where huge 3D printers have been used to build houses and also drones which make themselves useful in a number of construction tasks, such as pipeline and cell-tower inspection, search and rescue in visually obscured areas such as mines. Robotics and automation as a trend is quickly catching up in this industry and we see this as a progressive step. Disruptive technologies such as 3D printing and robotics have the ability to significantly improve efficiency, quality and operations in building operations. With the price of this technology dropping fast, AEC firms are using robotics to work with increasing frequency. Companies such as Autodesk offers solutions such as Robot Structural Analysis Professional structural engineering software that includes advanced building simulation and structural analysis capabilities for both simple and complex structures. Structural engineers can more quickly perform simulation and analysis on a variety of structures with a smoother workflow and more succinct results through the use of such technologies.
How the contemporary employment of Robotics offers a perspective of flexible alternative to traditional serial production system? To simplify, what are the USPs of this new technology?
There are several reasons for the increase in usage of robotics instead of traditional methods. They help in:
- Greatly reducing construction costs
- Increasing construction speed and efficiency
- Minimal to no construction waste
- Reducing financing costs for builders as the product is ready for market much quicker
- Safety for construction workers
- Lower insurance costs for builders
- Increased sustainability over a building’s lifetime
Do you see a significant shift of approach in design towards the Robotic construct internationally?
Absolutely! Until very recently, the construction industry was one of the most unfamiliar R&D fields for the robotics and automation community, despite the fact that this industry is one of the oldest and represents the largest economic sectors. This is changing rapidly now with large AEC companies taking to robotics and automation in a big way. Industrial robots have become smarter, faster, and more affordable, and have developed advanced capabilities, such as sensing, dexterity, memory, and trainability. In 2012, Broad Group, a private Chinese construction company, prefabricated entire floors through the use of robotics and was thereby able to construct a 30-story hotel structure on a greenfield site in 15 days!
If the basic manufacturing conditions of architecture shift from manual work to digital fabrication, what design potential is there for one of the oldest and most widespread architectural elements — the brick?
There are 2 aspects to construction – one is the process itself and the other is the building material. Construction processes and developments in construction technologies and associated building materials are not always exclusive but instead mutually reinforcing where one impacts how the other evolves. Brick or various forms of brick will always hold potential in construction. The design world is currently is undergoing a major shift. Advances in fabrication technologies such as additive and subtractive manufacturing have made it possible to produce new forms that until recently were impossible to build. Previously, a modern designer was concerned about selecting pre-determined components from industry and composing them into a singular design. For example, a brick was 4”x4”x8”, a block was 8”x8”x16” and a sheet of plywood was 4’x8’x1/2” thick. These components would be assembled to create the desired pragmatic and aesthetic outcome. Innovation was often founded in finding new ways to assemble the given modules. However, with the advent of new manufacturing techniques, the modular rules of the recent past are beginning to melt away. Now, more than ever, if someone can imagine a form and design a form, they can also create that form.
In addition, these new fabrication techniques break down traditional barriers between the designer and the fabricator or builder. In the recent past, designers would imagine a design, document it in two dimensions, and then send the documentation to the fabricator or builder where it would be interpreted and constructed. This process involved drifting back and forth between 2D and 3D and between analog and digital. This process can now be greatly streamlined. Designers and fabricators can now both work digitally and in 3D throughout the entire project. This collaborative, digital effort has the fringe benefit of preventing errors of translation. It also can give improved final outcomes as designers, engineers and fabricators each add value to the product as it moves through production rather than the previous model of conflict as a design was handed off at project milestones.
What are the futuristic innovations that you feel are going to change the building construction processes the world over, in near future?
When it comes to construction technologies, the possibilities are endless, and the current rapid innovation and technology of construction will shape the appearance of future buildings. As mentioned earlier, the construction workers of the future could be robots. They can reach places and undertake construction work where humans cannot. Similarly robotic drones can carry out site inspection or area inspection that can help better planning. Automated masonry is another area where robots can build structures without supervision and even without pre-determined roles. There are plans to use robotic systems for construction projects that may be too risky for humans. 3D Printing is another field that will change the processes. We might print not only buildings, but entire urban sections. As of now, the 3D printing process is expensive but the cost is constantly falling as the technology is refined.
In a country like India, where most of the building construction work still depends upon the large chunk of labour force that is easily available, how cost-effective will be this new the robotic technology for the construction industry and don’t you think the technology will pull a curtain down on the labour force which will ultimately lead to unemployment.
While it’s true that the amount of manual labour in construction is widespread in India, however the potential of the application of robotic technologies are diverse. As I mentioned earlier, in areas like structural analysis and simulation robotic technologies can add value. Construction is a process and the possibility of applications of technologies at various stages in this process will make it sustainable, safe and durable. Another example maybe is in large scale projects like the various metro projects in India we do need huge drilling machines which bore through earth in a matter of days which would have taken months if done manually.
Heading: Government participation pivotal for success
By: Neha Malhotra
MohitGoel, CEO, Omaxe Ltd discusses the company’s stint in affordable housing and the active role that the government needs to play for the success of affordable housing in India.
What were the pulling factors that led you to step into tier II and III market?
State Government’s infrastructure initiatives were beginning to be seen on the ground and the cities in Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh etc were showing good growth and potential due to increased urbanisation and employment opportunities. The IT industry, BFSI along with Retail were expanding; and due to availability of large tract of cheap land, skilled workforce, low rentals etc prompted boom in both residential and commercial space in these cities. We foresaw the potential of tier II and III cities and accordingly strategized our business to cater to this huge untapped market. NCR was seeing price escalation with too many players in the fray.
What are the challenges of operating in the affordable space? What are the govt pre-requisites of operating in this space? How are you copping up with them?
Challenges are on the tax front and cost of land. Both these components contribute almost 60-70 per cent of the project cost and so it gets very difficult for developers to bracket their project in the affordable category. It is therefore imperative that the Government has the following things in place in order to give a boost to affordable housing: Cheap land; easy funding for buyers/developers to buy/develop the project; Develop infrastructure and make it economically sustainable so that habitation increases.
We execute mega township projects in tier II and III cities, spread across 100 acres to 500 acres, where there are a large number of units on offer. The land prices are cheaper as compared to metro cities and therefore the end product is easily placed in the affordable category.
Will PPP be a key driver in this space? How can the government encourage developers to enter the affordable housing sector?
Yes, PPP can be a key driver depending on a lot of factors. In Haryana, for example, the Government has played a key role in developing affordable housing along with private developers. If the Housing For all by 2022 dream has to be successful, we need aggressive participation from the Government in terms of helping developers’ access cheap funds and resource and accord quick approvals besides building the requisite infrastructure.
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