Japan builds construction robots
A robotic lifting arm and remote-controlled bulldozers are some of the innovations being rolled out on Japanese construction sites as the country’s workforce shrinks and gets older.
The move to automation comes as trade body the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors estimates that there will be 1.28 million fewer construction workers by 2025 compared with 2014.
It shows that a government push to integrate high technology into the construction sector, called “i-Construct”, may be bearing fruit after its launch in 2015. Ministers are concerned that productivity in Japanese construction has lagged far behind other sectors.
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In 2015, some 30% of all construction workers were aged 55 or over, while those below 29 accounted for only about 10%, according to official figures, according to a Kyodo New agency report carried in Japan Times.
Construction giant Kajima has started using unmanned, automated dump trucks, bulldozers and vibrating rollers with GPS systems at its building sites. A single worker can direct the preprogrammed machinery using a tablet computer.
A Kajima spokesman told the Kyodo that a looming shortage of 300,000 workers in the industry meant it was crucial to find ways of boosting productivity.
“That’s why we are all scrambling for a solution,” said the spokesman, Atsushi Fujino.
Another major construction firm, Shimizu Corp., has developed an arm-shaped robot that lifts heavy reinforcing rods (pictured).
While it normally takes up to seven people to manoeuvre one 200-kg rod, this machine needs only three workers to direct the robot and place the rod.
The robot is now being leased out to construction sites.
“This is a realisation of human-robot collaboration,” Tomoaki Ogi, a manager at a technology division of Shimizu, told Kyodo.
Construction can never be fully automated, however, said Kajima’s Fujino: “There are things that only people can do, for example, getting small corners done or interiors that require artisan skills.”
But Shimizu’s Ogi said there is still much room for robotics to lend strength and speed in construction. “Let the robot do the heavy work under people’s (guidance),” he said.
Another company, Shojigumi Inc. in Shizuoka Prefecture, uses robots and other automated machines, and launched a nation-wide network of companies in 2015 that lets them try new technologies and share information, Kyodo reports.