Skanska’s robot vision
Felipe Manzatucci, Skanska’s new innovation director, talks to CM about the contractor’s robot strategy.
Skanska has been at the forefront of construction robotics development, its UK strategy previously led by former innovation director Sam Stacey, who departed for Innovate UK last year, and now by his successor Felipe Manzatucci.
The contractor works with its supply chain to develop the equipment, rather than being a manufacturer itself.
“What is important to us is to develop information transfer platforms where construction teams can instruct autonomous robots on specific tasks,” Manzatucci says. “The capability of the robots to carry out specific activities is something we leave to the experts in our supply chain. We collaborate with supply chain partners via Innovate UK projects.”
An example of this is the Collaborative, On-Site Construction Robot (COSCR) project, with Hal Robotics, ABB and Skyjack. It aims to develop a mobile construction platform equipped with a robotic arm. It differs from earlier Skanska projects, usually employed in “flying factories”, in that these machines would be capable of delivering repetitive activities on site.
“We want robots to be able to collaborate among each other and work as a collective, performing a number of different tasks,” Manzatucci explains. “For this, a reconfigurable robot is necessary.”
Another Skanska Innovate UK project completed in April, called CAMBER (Concrete Additive Manufacturing for the Built Environment using Robotics). The project identified areas where 3D concrete printing (3DCP) could be applied.
“Again, our focus is for the robotic arm to read and understand the CAD information,” says Manzatucci. “We think it can be very useful for printing items like highway crash cushions, kerbs, bus stops, footbridges, where the asset has complex geometry. One advantage of using 3DCP is that concrete elements can be created without using falsework and formwork. Concrete is pumped through a nozzle which is guided by the robot to form a predetermined shape.”
Skanska is now using 3D printing for bespoke tree planters in Stamford, Lincolnshire. “These are 3D-printed offsite, then delivered to the street, and are of curved geometry, typically 800mm deep and 1.5m across,” says Manzatucci.
The 3D-printed tree planters, which are being installed in Stamford, Lincolnshire (Designed by Artefatto Design Studio, London)
Another project under development is a welding robot with a fireproof arm, where Skanska is collaborating with fabricator Patera Engineering. “Through this project, Patera was introduced to ABB, and made a direct investment in two robotic arms,” Manzatucci says. “The welding arm will be used as part of their production line.”
Most of Skanska’s robotics projects are intended to work in systems such as its flying factories – a concept it developed with expertise from Tekla and ABB, and used on the A14 (precast bridge), Battersea Power Station (utility cupboards) and Astra Zeneca (MEP riser modules).
“For the River Great Ouse Viaduct, on the A14, manufacturing of the bridge components was automated through CAD, taking two months off programme and saving £4m,” says Manzatucci.
Skanska is looking at other ways to bring automation to infrastructure work. On Project Visualise in Hampshire, where highways asset conditions surveys are uploaded to a cloud system, Manzatucci believes it will be possible to introduce AI into the system. “We scan the road, the software defines the condition of the asset, and automatically comes up with the solution for the issue,” he explains.
Manzatucci also wants to bring in ideas from the wider Skanska group. “We are using semi-automatic processes to run one of our quarries in Sweden, with electric and autonomous Volvo machines,” he says. “Our digital agenda is at a global scale, sharing lessons learned between sister companies.”