Robotics have a mixed history in construction. Some work, especially in prefabricated building offsite, while others have not been successful, particularly when used onsite. Mobility and the need for stability make onsite work, weather, and location dependent, more so than more traditional methods. However, that may be changing as more equipment companies are exploring the use of robotic technology and applying it to construction.
One of the technologies that has shown promise is in the use of robotic arms and gantry equipment for 3D printing of concrete walls. From one of the first, if not the first, completed buildings constructed in this method, an office building in Dubai, to the research work being done by Chinese and U.S. companies as well as others in the European Union, building onsite using what is referred to as additive manufacturing techniques is moving rapidly.
The global market for 3D printing of all types is expected to reach $120 billion by the end of 2020 and about $300 billion by 2025. In particular, 3D printing technology will cut construction costs by between 50-70% and cut labor costs by 50-80%. The method will help reduce waste in construction operations by up to 60%, which will be reflected in the economic returns and contribute to sustainable development.
A current and future major player in the area is China. The Dubai office building, which will house, appropriately, the Museum of the Future, was a joint venture of Dubai and Yingchuang, a Chinese a high-tech company engaged in the research and development of new construction materials and printing of 3D houses. Dubai has a goal of 25 per cent of all new buildings in the emirate to be 3D printed by 2030.
Companies are developing 3D-related equipment, as well as robotics, to move the industry along. Chinese company Zoomlion via its subsidiary m-tec, has a mortar mixer, Duo-mix, designed especially for mortar used in 3D construction printing. The mixer can be connected to backend robots for 3D printing and produce high-performance concrete with high compressive strength. It can also accurately adjust the construction speed according to the needs of the project, ensuring the strength of each layer of mortar, while maintaining the best adhesive ability even under humid conditions and has external controls, via a mobile app, for integrated higher-levels of automation.