Robotics in architecture - the future today

How can construction change to enable automation? An expert panel at Knauf argues for a new way of working

In association with
Clay robotics: multi-robot clay mould making for architectural casting.
Clay robotics: multi-robot clay mould making for architectural casting. Credit: The Bartlett GAD RC5, UCL, 2014, J. Sun, K. Ho, S. Wang, Tutors: Philippe Morel, Thibault Schwartz and Guan Lee © HAL Robotics Ltd

The construction industry must modernise or die. That was the conclusion of Mark Farmer’s 2016 review of the UK construction labour model. Given the construction industry’s ageing workforce, looming skills shortage and poor levels of productivity, it doesn't sound like he was wrong.

Construction is a big industry, but also a conservative one. While technology and innovation are advancing at pace in wider society, there are concerns that, unless construction starts to embrace innovative ways of working, the industry will miss an opportunity to improve productivity and address its shrinking workforce.

Government too is keen for the industry to evolve, deliver better value for money and shorten the time taken to deliver its assets. Its strategy for construction was set out in the document Construction 2025.

Futureproofing the construction industry is an essential part of business at Knauf. Rather than simply focusing on the here and now, a more holistic approach to product design and manufacture could be the catalyst to unlocking technologies that might revolutionise the construction process. 

One way to transform the industry could be robotics. Robots have transformed the automotive industry; could they hold the key to the transformation of construction? To find out, Knauf, the UK’s leading manufacturer of lightweight building materials and systems, hosted a Robotics in Architecture panel event at its Clerkenwell showroom in London.

  • Panellist Eva Magnisali is a registered architect, engineer and founding director of DataForm Lab. She raised the point that it is not only at the build level where automation is important, but also at the start of the whole construction process.
    Panellist Eva Magnisali is a registered architect, engineer and founding director of DataForm Lab. She raised the point that it is not only at the build level where automation is important, but also at the start of the whole construction process.
  • A robotised pre-fabrication process was used to manufacture this Automated FoamDome - an ultra light foam shell. The prototype is 5x2x3.5m and the shell is made of 160 unique parts obtained using robotised hot wire cutting.
    A robotised pre-fabrication process was used to manufacture this Automated FoamDome - an ultra light foam shell. The prototype is 5x2x3.5m and the shell is made of 160 unique parts obtained using robotised hot wire cutting.
  • Automated FoamDome#2.
    Automated FoamDome#2.
  • Timber shell construction.
    Timber shell construction.
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The event brought together leaders from the robotics and technology community with experts from the architecture and construction industry to discuss the intricacies of robotics in architecture and construction. The speakers were:

  • Sebastian Andraos, co-founder and vice president of Human-Machine Interactions at HAL Robotics
  • Eva Magnisali, founding director of DataForm Lab
  • Dale Sinclair, director of technical practice at AECOM

Although no definite answers were offered at the event, some common themes could be found, one being the way that robotics is currently looked at and utilised in the built environment. Andraos argued that robotics is being used to service out-of-date methods, but construction should change to meet automation.

Offsite construction was discussed, with some general agreement that this is where robotics can have the greatest impact as automation can be used to complete repetitive jobs and hazardous tasks. Using robotics to address the skilled labour shortage is something that Knauf sees happening soon.

Introducing new robots in architecture will change the distribution of jobs, but not necessarily to the detriment of all workers: many construction jobs are dangerous and repetitive. Robots could free up workers to be retrained for more challenging, complex or creative jobs. Designing, manufacturing, commissioning and maintenance of robots will create a new industry. 

To read the full report, visit knauf.co.uk/news

 

Contact:

01795 424499

info@knauf.co.uk


 

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