Advanced Technological Systems (Archived)

RT-016 Topic Summary
RT 016


Basic methods for physically putting work in place have not changed dramatically in the last 30 years. The availability of a large supply of trained construction workers has traditionally been assumed when planning projects. That availability, combined with an emphasis on short term efficiency, low costs, and a lack of research and development (R&D), has precluded significant attention to automation. As in other industries, productivity and quality in construction have been dependent more upon humans than on machines. 

The purpose of this publication is two-fold. First, it describes a methodology for identifying automation benefits. The methodology can be applied to a variety of construction activities. Second, the methodology is applied to three important areas of industrial construction: piping, electrical, and steel erection. The methodology and pilot efforts have identified a total of 12 tasks that promise to benefit from automation.

This research has addressed neither the issue of automation feasibility nor how widely a solution to a particular need might apply across the universe of construction tasks. These issues are left for future R&D activities, as is the matter of opportunities in other construction market segments.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Methodology and Benefits

RT-16 has generated useful information in two categories. First, it has presented a methodology for determining tasks with good payback potential from construction automation. The methodology can be applied to any area of construction activity. Second, the study has identified several tasks that could benefit from automation in three important areas: structural steel erection, electrical fabrication and installation, and piping fabrication and erection. (RS16-1, p. 24)
Reference: (RS16-1)

2 : Workforce Adoption of Technology

One conclusion reached from the field research is that many of the construction workers are flexible and creative in the performance of their duties. This is understandable considering the obstacles that are typically encountered on any construction site: lack of proper materials and equipment, rework, and field-run construction. While perhaps distrustful of the concept of automation in their work environment, they were receptive to anything that would actually help them perform their workload. (SD-56, p. i)
Reference: (SD-56)

3 : Prioritization of Tasks

The tasks which were determined by this research to be the most in need of and/or receptive to automation are listed and defined in Source Document 56. Beneath each listing of the individually top ranking tasks are task groups which are termed Cycles. These cycles are related by sequence and therefore considered to be candidates for the most efficient automation technology. In general, the types of tasks that are most common to all three areas are lifting, aligning, and connecting. Whether engaged in fabrication or erection activities, above grade or at grade, these three types of tasks represent a majority of worker time. (SD-56, p. ii)
Reference: (SD-56)

4 : Evaluation of Automated Construction Devices

To cope with the expected automation revolution in the construction industry this research created a Standard Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) Plan for automated devices. (SD-59, p. 108)
Reference: (SD-59)

5 : Graphical Simulation in Construction

The industrial application of graphical simulation to construction can serve a wide variety of objectives and offers many significant benefits. Its usage will continue to grow, particularly as computer hardware and software capabilities improve, as system costs decrease, and as industry standards are established. While the current level of excitement among industrial users is most enthusiastic, graphical simulation will also be fruitful to researchers who will develop advances that link advanced information systems (such as knowledge bases and databases) to simulation analyses and who will make use of graphical simulation in furthering the development of automated construction. (SD-68, p. 36)
Reference: (SD-68)

6 : Path Forward

The next logical step is to extend the needs assessment methodology presented here to include (1) an evaluation of the technology needed for automation, and (2) identification of other tasks to which any technically feasible solutions might also apply. The resulting procedure could help business, government, and academia direct support toward development of those devices which demonstrate the most favorable balance among user need, technical feasibility, and range of application. (RS16-1, p. 25)
Reference: (RS16-1)

7 : Implementation Tool #1

RS16-1, Cost-Concern Matrix 

This simple four-quadrant matrix is used to plot tasks based on cost impact and concern rating. The matrix serves as a guide to help assess the relative need for automation among the tasks. (Note – this tool has been archived)  (RS16-1, p. 9)

Reference: (RS16-1)

8 : Implementation Tool #2

SD-84, Advanced Construction Technology System (ACTS) 

The long-term objective is to establish ACTS as an ongoing information service to the US construction industry that will help contractors, designers, and owners identify and use emerging technologies to improve construction efficiency and effectiveness. ACTS is a computerized database for the classification, documentation, storage and retrieval of information about emerging construction technologies. (Note: This tool has been archived) (SD-84)
Reference: (SD-84)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved cost, Improved schedule, Improved quality (reduced errors & omissions), Improved safety

Research Publications

Advanced Construction Technology System (ACTS) - SD-84

Publication Date: 12/1992 Type: Source Document Pages: 375 Status: Archived Tool

Needs Assessment for Construction Automation - RS16-1

Publication Date: 12/1991 Type: Research Summary Pages: 34 Status: Archived Tool

A Survey of Graphical Simulation in Construction: Software, Usage and Application - SD-68

Publication Date: 09/1991 Type: Source Document Pages: 43 Status: Archived Reference

Operational Test and Evaluation of Automated Construction Devices - SD-59

Publication Date: 11/1990 Type: Source Document Pages: 127 Status: Archived Reference

A Methodology for Identifying Automation Opportunities in Industrial Construction - SD-56

Publication Date: 09/1990 Type: Source Document Pages: 171 Status: Archived Reference