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Robotics in Construction Management: Impacts and Barriers Research Paper


Abstract

The field of construction management is open to innovations and effective rational solutions, and one of the possible ways of increasing performance is introducing automated systems into the production process. This study aims at describing the advantages that such mechanisms bear in the context of labor organization, as well as the barriers and challenges that the leaders of individual structural units may encounter.

As a substantiation base, an extended literature review will be conducted as a research method. Relevant academic resources will be utilized to ensure the credibility of the research and all reasoning given. The findings will help to confirm specific theories and assumptions regarding the effectiveness of the implementation of robotics in construction management. Based on the results of the review, relevant recommendations will be given. In order to focus on specific areas of work, the political, economic, social, environmental, and legal implications of innovations will be considered.

In accordance with the results of the work carried out, it can be noted that representatives of the construction management sector can gain significant benefits through the introduction of robotic systems into the production process. Despite some barriers and challenges, the cooperative activity of people and automatic mechanisms makes it possible to improve the quality of all operational procedures and minimize routine and tedious tasks.

Following the analysis, the proposed recommendations should be considered in order not to violate the existing standards of work in the construction management sector. The results of the study may be utilized as a guideline for introducing relevant equipment in the workflow and searching for justifications for the effectiveness of such activity.

The robotization of technological operations is an essential direction of the automation of construction processes. Prior to introducing appropriate mechanisms, the thorough analysis of forthcoming work is to be carried out, which is an integral part of managing the autonomous components of work. During the analysis, technical, organizational, and social factors should be analyzed, as well as the economic feasibility of a planned project.

When conducting the evaluation, the level of mechanization and automation of construction processes is assessed, and their operational analysis is performed. The results of this assessment allow identifying the degree of the complexity of robotized processes and the justification of their use. The analysis of technological equipment allows evaluating the possibility of engaging both standard mechanisms and the means of robotization.

In the construction industry, the assessment is made of the feasibility of automating individual operations based on the traditional means of mechanization and the feasibility of using robots. Programming, operating, and maintaining specific equipment requires identifying those areas that can improve the existing methods and support their work. In this regard, it is crucial to consider the benefits and problems associated with adopting corresponding approaches.

The assessment of the economic feasibility of the robotization of individual construction processes is based on cost analysis and the calculation of payback. At the same time, the compatibility of implemented funds with other technological equipment is to be taken into account. The objects of robotization are considered selected if they provide an economic effect. According to Oesterreich and Teuteberg (2016), the final decision on the feasibility of such implementation is better to take on the basis of expert assessments and expert opinions. This topic is an issue since, in some cases, there is a lack of the awareness of the principles and consequences of special mechanisms implementation.

As Faghihi, Nejat, Reinschmidt, and Kang (2015) note, with regard to the field of construction management, robotics has quite broad prospects because certain calculations and justifications for the use of specific equipment is a critical aspect of work. When developing and controlling a robotic technology for the construction process, it is necessary to study the design documentation of buildings and structures. This will allow grouping structural elements on certain grounds and providing an opportunity to estimate the volume of activities performed accurately.

The key objective of this study is to analyze the possibilities of using robotics in the field of construction management to identify specific methods for improving current practices and highlight the difficulties encountered. Also, as the objectives of research, the benefits of adopting appropriate approaches will be mentioned, as well as the attendant problems of their implementation. As the main method of assessing current knowledge in this area, a literature review will be conducted, and relevant academic studies will be involved.

The concepts of automation and robotics in construction management will be analyzed and compared, and such topics will be covered as implementation difficulties, the merits of equipping with special mechanisms, and those areas where these innovations can be of good use. Based on the findings of the review, recommendations will be made regarding changes in processes that will lead to environmental and economic benefits in the global industry regarding cost reduction, quality, and time constraints. Automation and robotics are the significant aspects of modern construction management, and the effective analysis of their proper use can improve the outcomes of work in this area and help achieve high production results.

Literature Review

To address all the issues and problems raised, a literary review will be conducted with the use of findings from various scholars, including reasoning and facts about automation and robotics in construction management. Some visual aids will be utilized for the ease of displaying data and obtaining systematic statistical reports. Based on the results of the review, conclusions will be made regarding the development of these areas, relevant facts about the achievements and progress in this area will be studied, and recommendations will be given in relation to promoting the adoption of innovations in a specific field.

Construction Automation Concepts

The concepts of construction automation are based on the principles of using special devices in accordance with their purpose and assigned functions. Bock (2015) highlights the five key ways of implementing automated systems and offers the following list: a robot-oriented design, robotic industrialization, construction robots, site automation, and ambient robotics. These types are distributed in accordance with the methods of implementation in modern technological processes and their application to construction management.

Faghihi et al. (2015) emphasize the advantages of automation in the context of the sphere under consideration and note that modern production concepts differ depending on such criteria as compliance with specific projects, the dynamics of their application, the nature of automatic mechanisms, as well as the amount of work performed. Aliakbarlou, Wilkinson, and Costello (2017) study modern approaches to automation and argue that the evolution in the field of construction management is due to the timely practical implementation of the theoretical concepts of value and quality.

Construction automation concepts are also classified in terms of their relevance to the target area. Saturno, Ramos, Polato, Deschamps, and Loures (2017) give an example of the centralization of approaches and note that according to the system of gradation, approaches to automation are higher than those to communication networks. In this regard, the authors mention the concept of maturity and remark that the formation of a system for improving work processes is the result of competent management practices (Saturno et al., 2017).

Saidi, Bock, and Georgoulas (2016) who consider this topic directly in the context of various theories confirm the existence of the aforementioned “concept of integrated robotized construction sites” and note that this concept includes the combination of factory technologies and approaches to improving the current base (p. 1497). Oesterreich and Teuteberg (2016) also provide a unique discussion on the approaches to automation. They suggest paying attention to such concepts as “Product-Lifecycle-Management (PLM)” and “Modularisation and Robotics” (Oesterreich & Teuteberg, 2016, p. 126). All the concepts discussed are applicable to the topic under study and can serve as valuable methodologies for assessing the relevance of innovations in construction management.

Automation vs. Robotics in Construction Management

Although the concepts of automation and robotics are often considered in a synonymous context, these aspects have some unique features that fundamentally distinguish them from each other. According to Tibaut, Rebolj, and Perc (2016), the evolution in the construction industry has led to the significant expansion of automated operations compared to manual ones, but robotics has not received the same global distribution yet.

Terminology can explain the difference in the concepts of both these phenomena. As Pan, Linner, Pan, Cheng, and Bock (2018) argue, automation is the process of complete or partial replacing an operator with a stand-alone controller or an entire system. Robotics, in turn, is different in that instead of operators, multichannel technical means are utilized that choose controlling programs independently (Pan et al., 2018). In other words, robotics is a more advanced technical area than automation. In construction management, both principles are actively promoted, and Perkins and Skitmore (2015) cite an example of using 3D printing technology to create various visual models of structures. This approach reflects the evolution in the field of automation and its improvement.

Using 3D printing as an example, it is possible to identify those concepts that are promoted in robotics algorithms. As Tay et al. (2017) remark, in this technology, “an overall control system concept and kinematics equation” are maintained (p. 264). With regard to the field of construction management, it is essential to take into account not only mechanical but also the operational characteristics of objects created due to robotic controllers.

Valero and Adán (2016) give an example of building information models that are associated with the aforementioned 3D format and allow evaluating the quality of construction work within the framework of these programs. According to Kim, Chen, and Cho (2018), scanning systems utilized on construction sites provide not only the automation of control but the comprehensive implementation of all monitoring procedures. Accordingly, robotics in the sector of construction management plays a significant role.

Current Practices and Applications of Robotics in Construction Management

Applying robotics in the modern conditions of construction management is gaining increasing popularity due to the convenience of the entirely autonomous mechanism of control over all production operations. The analysis of findings from academic literature proves that implementing such a working system makes it possible to improve the quality of monitoring and ensure the safety of design operations. As a result, a number of advantages are manifested in the process of application. According to Fang, Cho, Zhang, and Perez (2016), today, robotics finds its usage in such areas as “site security control, safety management, asset management, and productivity monitoring” (p. 05016003).

At modern industrial enterprises focused on construction technologies, the partial or complete replacement of people by automatic control systems is the norm. The training of specialists in the management of specialized robotic devices is the relevant area of education, and in Figure 1, a sample of effective interaction is demonstrated (“Master in Robotics and Advanced Construction,” n.d.).

Master in Robotics and Advanced Construction.
Figure 1. Master in Robotics and Advanced Construction.

In the field of construction management, robotics is often used in site planning and resource allocation. Li et al. (2015) emphasize the convenience of such systems in ensuring the safety of subordinates since smart equipment not only runs smoothly but also eliminates any incidents. It is particularly important at large construction sites where there is an increased risk of injuries. Due to the fact that there is no need to monitor the activities of autonomous mechanisms, more attention can be paid to performance. Moreover, according to Zhang, Cao, and Zhao (2017), high-precision robotic mechanisms are often equipped with safe operation modes.

In construction management, it is a relevant decision because any injuries at work are fraught with serious proceedings against the leaders of individual brigades. An opportunity to adjust mechanisms so as to prevent deviations from the intended mode is a widely requested function. Therefore, in the modern field of construction management, utilizing robotics is justified for many reasons.

Challenges of Adopting Robotics and Automation Initiatives

Despite the obvious advantages of introducing robotics into modern construction management practices, some challenges and barriers periodically arise, which negatively affects the rating of automated systems. According to Kamaruddin, Mohammad, and Mahbub (2016), there are several difficulties that innovators face, and one of them is the lack of funding. The need to purchase appropriate equipment and maintain it in good condition requires certain investments, and some production enterprises cannot afford additional costs.

Another significant challenge is the lack of the necessary base for implementation, in other words, too a weak capacity of a particular market (“10 most automated countries in the world,” 2018). Figure 2 demonstrates the ranking of countries where robotic mechanisms are implemented, and, judging by the indicators in some states, there is a shortage of valuable devices.

10 Most Automated Countries in the World.
Figure 2. 10 Most Automated Countries in the World.

In addition to the aforementioned external factors, some internal difficulties may also affect the adoption of robotics in construction management negatively. As Willcocks, Lacity, and Craig (2017) note, the staff of individual organizations may resist the introduction of automated mechanisms for fear of losing jobs. Although such concerns have some justification, the performance of activities in such an environment is usually low, and the lack of labor efficiency is the consequence of outdated working regimes.

Also, according to Leitão, Colombo, and Karnouskos (2016), the improper management of robotic equipment is fraught with difficulties for construction companies. If the leaders of structural units are not able to ensure the smooth operation of autonomous systems, additional should become an essential aspect of practice. Therefore, despite the relevance of robotics and automation initiatives to construction management, some challenges can impede the process of their implementation significantly.

Influential Drivers, Potential Benefits, and Areas for Improvement

The evaluation of influential drivers stimulating the development of robotics in the field of construction management may help identify those factors that can improve this activity and provide significant benefits. Suprun and Stewart (2015) argue that “the desire of construction companies to capture a competitive advantage is a significant driver of innovation diffusion” (p. 287). Also, the authors consider the technical capabilities of enterprises as a criterion that largely determines the course towards robotization (Suprun & Stewart, 2015). Li and Liu (2018) focus on the benefits that innovative technologies bring in constructions management and notice that an opportunity to maintain competent logistics and the control of supply chains is one of the significant advantages of utilizing modern robotics as ancillary equipment.

The advantages of robotics are not limited to organizing supplies. According to Kim, Chi, Wang, and Ding (2015), managers can use innovative automated mechanisms to plan activities efficiently and distribute workload competently. In addition, Whitlock, Abanda, Manjia, Pettang, and Nkeng (2018) argue that robotics makes it possible to evaluate the performance of operations and make valuable conclusions based on detailed information obtained in the process of analyzing the activities of automated equipment.

As Jamil and Fathi (2016) remark, the possibility of adopting robotics helps assess the stakeholders’ environment of a particular project and take all the necessary initiatives to maintain a stable interaction among all participants. Therefore, using such mechanisms is a relevant and in-demand practice in modern construction management.

Recommendations for Promoting the Adoption of Robotics in Construction Management

In order to confirm the relevance of the findings of the conducted literature review, it is necessary to consider the various implications of robotics introduction into construction management. Based on the analysis of the merits and values of such innovations, recommendations will be made regarding the mechanisms for introducing automated equipment into the workflow and the outcomes of this promotion. Ultimately, it will be possible to draw competent conclusions regarding the effectiveness of this activity and its validity from different perspectives.

Political Implications

The introduction of robotic mechanisms to increase productivity and improve construction management can have positive political implications. The importance of such outcomes is significant since the authorities often play a key role in making decisions about the availability of production modernization. According to Demirel, Leendertse, Volker, and Hertogh (2017), “politicians are very important stakeholders and a main cause of changes,” and the rationale in support of this assertion is that the regulation of innovation development issues often requires approval from officials (p. 201). As a result, authorities’ opinions may be a key factor in determining the availability of innovative development and the possibility of reorganizing a particular management regime.

In addition, the political implications of adopting automated mechanisms may suggest the convenience of controlling the business activities of organizations involved in construction activities. The standardization of production and stable operating systems eliminate any disruptions that may lead to public outcry. Li et al. (2015) emphasize the importance of safe construction management and argue that the absence of injuries will positively affect the reputation of governing boards. Therefore, the authorities can increase their credibility and public recognition by participating in safe production promotion programs and approving innovations.

Economic Implications

One of the main recommendations that can be given to stakeholders involved in the process of introducing robotics into construction management is the need to modernize outdated equipment to increase profits. As Decker, Fischer, and Ott (2017) note, “optimizing the human-machine interface for a specific cooperative task” is the natural outcome of technological development (p. 352). Also, the authors cite arguments on the mandatory aspects of work on innovations (Decker et al., 2017). Specific ideas related to economic implications are demonstrated in Table 1.

Table 1. Economic Aspects of Introducing Robotics.

Aspect Outcome
Meeting the expectations of the target market Increased demand for products and involving investor attention through effective promotion programs
Labor costs and payments to personnel engaged in the maintenance of innovative equipment In case of efficient and qualified work, profits are achieved due to employees’ interest in the quality service of robotic equipment
Measures to increase profitability due to realizing the capabilities of robotic mechanisms The increase in power and volume of production due to updated mechanisms brings guaranteed profits
The cost of purchasing equipment and its maintaining in good condition In case of competent maintenance, robotic equipment can serve long and reliably

Social Implications

From the standpoint of social implications, the introduction of robotics into construction management may have significant positive outcomes. First, according to Veruggio, Operto, and Bekey (2016), the leaders of individual organizations can exempt subordinates from routine and tedious activities, which will increase performance indicators and, at the same time, ensure job stability. Secondly, in countries with a high level of technological development where a large number of innovative equipment can be introduced, many subordinates will be involved in the maintenance of robotic systems.

This, in turn, will improve the situation in the labor market and give jobs. Moreover, workers will be able to improve their skills constantly through the acquisition of new experience. Therefore, as a recommendation to construction managers, special training courses should be offered to subordinates.

The practice of modernization also implies an increase in social responsibility. Veruggio et al. (2016) remark that governing boards are obliged to ensure an appropriate mode of operation, which could meet modern standards. Thus, if high-precision robotic equipment is used, it will be an incentive for managers to adhere to the latest leadership approaches and will be the key to the competent achievement of their goals.

Environmental Implications

Despite the fears of many environmentalists about the destructive influence of modern technologies on nature, automated production systems in the construction industry are able to improve the current ecological situation. In order to achieve the desired effect, the managers of individual organizations should conduct the comparative analyses of pollution in the working conditions of two different modes.

According to Greenblatt and Shaheen (2015), this step will help prove that robotics does not have a negative impact on the environment and also contributes to improving an ecological situation. Due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of modern mechanisms operate on autonomous energy sources, they do not emit any harmful substances into the atmosphere. Consequently, it is one of the advantages of automated equipment.

Also, unlike traditional construction mechanisms, the operational term of robotic equipment is significantly higher. Managers need to maintain such equipment in good working conditions in order to prevent its premature failure. In such a case, automated tools will operate for a long time and will not have to be disposed of as potentially hazardous wastes. Therefore, the use of modern robotic devices in construction management is justified from an environmental point of view.

Legal Implications

The legal implications of active robotic equipment introduction in the field of construction management can be positive if the enterprises’ leaders adhere to the current legislation regarding the operation of such devices. Holder, Khurana, Hook, Bacon, and Day (2016) emphasize that while maintaining an innovation policy, particular attention should be paid to a proper recruitment system.

Based on the aforementioned recommendations on the operation of automated mechanisms, it is essential to take into account the nuances of recruiting activities and ensure that the rights of subordinates are not affected by the active introduction of modern devices. In this case, managers will be able to establish reliable and efficient activities, subordinates will not demonstrate displeasure concerning the loss of jobs.

In addition to the aforementioned recommendation, additional emphasis should be made on the choice of innovative equipment. It is crucial for robotic mechanisms to comply with the existing standards since, in the construction sector, any violations may have severe consequences. In this regard, managers are to take into account the technical characteristics of the devices that they use as auxiliary equipment in order to prevent sanctions from the control authorities and not to violate working standards.

Conclusions

In the field of construction management, automation and robotics are highly demanded and valuable practices that can increase productivity and provide significant support to the leaders of organizations. The impact of innovative equipment on the nature of all activities may be big if relevant initiatives are maintained and current standards are respected. With regard to the impact on performance, robotic devices have high technical characteristics and can be used for different purposes, thereby simplifying work for managers and eliminating the need to constantly search for the new ways of optimizing production.

Regarding the prospects for the future, it is likely that robotics will become a widely applicable technology to modernize the field of construction management. Due to the expansion of the capabilities and power of modern mechanisms, automated devices will be able to realize more functions and help managers achieve their operational goals in the shortest possible time. Accordingly, if there are no problems in maintenance, robotic technologies are likely to expand the range of their application, for instance, due to the possibilities of monitoring specific modes of operation and planning future activities. Therefore, in further practice, an even greater spread of such devices will certainly be observed.

Based on the findings of the conducted literature review, it can be argued that there are some barriers to the successful introduction of innovations in construction management, for instance, concerns about replacing human labor with machine one. Nevertheless, in many academic sources, the opinion is given that compliance with legislative norms and effective personnel management exclude such a risk and, on the contrary, increase performance indicators by minimizing routine activities and time-consuming tasks. Innovation development policies should be based on various aspects, and certain economic, social, legal, environmental, and political implications are to be considered.

The analysis of implications makes it possible to give recommendations to stakeholders regarding the ways of increasing productivity through initiatives to optimize construction management regimes, minimize costs, and organize effective promoting programs. Overcoming implementation barriers through the achievement of sustainability and stable operational management can be effective. Findings and observations prove that utilizing high-precision equipment contributes to planning all the activities and monitoring compliance with safety measures, which is a crucial aspect of construction management.

In relation to the benefits of innovations, evidence has been found in favor of adopting robotic systems as indispensable mechanisms for conducting high-precision work. Moreover, when evaluating the scope of such mechanisms, it is possible to argue about numerous functions that can be implemented with their help. Therefore, in terms of relevance and the impact of this transition program on activity outcomes, many advantages are manifested.

In the field of construction management, the findings and observations obtained may be used as a guideline for implementing robotics in order to improve production efficiency and performance indicators. From the standpoint of relevance, all the references utilized are appropriate. The evaluation of the practical significance of the research suggests the possibility of applying the review results and recommendations in real working conditions.

No ethical issues are addressed, and all reasoning can be justified theoretically. In general, the construction management industry is a promising sector in terms of introducing innovations, and applying automated systems is one of the effective practices for improving the quality of control due to significant resources and an opportunity to minimize production risks.

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