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The Rise of the Machine – Robots in Construction

FocusOn – Global Insights. Features reports on the Industry’s developing technology as well as interviews with the top executives of manufacturers and end users of equipment for the industries served by FocusOn publications.

In this edition, Roger Murrow reports on: The Rise of the Machine – Robots in Construction

Many construction tasks can be boring, dangerous and lead to health problems. Due to their repetitive nature, productivity can also be a problem, as well as accuracy being difficult to maintain. These factors, and other challenges faced by construction businesses, have led directly to the development of ranges of construction robots which have proved themselves in projects throughout the world.

Robots in the construction are increasingly providing an alternative to often laborious and dangerous tasks. They provide benefits to construction businesses as they cut labor costs while improving the speed of production. In addition, as drilling and breaking (two of the most common uses for robots in construction ) can lead to dust or other particles being introduced into the air during these processes, the use of a robot can lead to the human worker being removed from the harmful environment, thereby lessening health risks for site workers.

World leaders in their field

Scandinavia has now become the global center for construction robots, with two companies, Husqvarna and Brokk, both producing ranges of tracked robots which are capable of numerous tasks. These robots have come a long way since first being introduced, and now are powered by diesel engines, are of a compact size and programmable to undertake often quite complex tasks.
Swedish company Brokk has been in operation for more than 40 years, with its offering being concentrated on remote controlled machines for safe, efficient, powerful and profitable use. The company’s beginnings were focused in the demolition industry, but now the extensive product ranges have been adapted to new market demands, new challenges and new application areas. This has resulted in Brokk robots now being used in all areas of construction, from aggregates to tunneling and everything else in between.

New developments

Two recent developments from Brokk show just how all-encompassing the company’s offering now is, geared very much to the ever changing requirements of the construction industry. At the compact end of the market, Brokk has recently introduced the Brokk 120 Diesel Mark 2 – the world´s smallest diesel driven demolition robot. This compact machine can operate independently and untethered for over 8 hours straight and effectively tackle evens the most demanding of jobs.

The basic concept of this little demolition robot is its compact size (only 780mm wide) which enables it to enter through any standard door opening and makes it easy to maneuver in tight spaces. Its low weight of 1,200 kg enables it to work even on weak floors and makes it easy to transport to and from work sites. Powered by a compact but powerful diesel engine, it has a minimum of eight hours of operation without refueling, making it truly independent from any power source for at least a full work shift.

At the other end of the robot scale is the Brokk 500 which features exceptional power enabling it to use a powerful breaker. Launched at Conexpo 2017, the Brokk 500 adds 40% more breaking power delivering 1,500 joules punch with each blow of the 700 kg heavy (Atlas Copco SB702) hydraulic breaker. On top of that it adds further length to Brokk’s signature three-part arm system, now reaching 7.4 meters vertically and 7.0 meters horizontally; making it ideal for work where the extra reach is of importance.

The Brokk 500 also comes complete with the new intelligent electrical system – Brokk SmartPowerTM. This new smart electrical system is a key feature in facilitating the performance of the machine as it maximizes the power output, based on both environmental and operating factors. The system is uniquely designed for a tough operating environment with its components being either designed by or modified withstand difficult operating conditions.

Another Swedish company leading the robotic field in the construction industry is Husqvarna Construction Products. The company, part of the Husqvarna group, is a leading provider of innovative total solutions for cutting, sawing and drilling, surface preparation and remote demolition with equipment being able to function when dealing with the most demanding construction materials and environments.

The ethos of its robotic product development has been that when a job is too strenuous, challenging or too time-consuming for human workers, its remote-controlled, 3-phase electric powered robots are the ideal workmates. Thus the Husqvarna DXR series of remote-controlled demolition robots are the very latest in demolition machines, featuring high power, low weight and functional design. They are said by the manufacturer to be the obvious choice for users who want maneuverable yet highly powerful, stable machines with long reach.

The range of Husqvarna demolition robots consists of five basic models, from the 15 kW DXR 140 with 360°+ rotating arm to the 22 kW DXR 310 with telescopic arm. Weights range from 985 kg to 2,020 kg. With differing feature packages, the DXR range is available in 17 different variants. Hence buyers are able to choose a configuration and optional extras to suit their specific needs.

This is perfectly shown by the Husqvarna DXR 140 which possesses one particularly smart feature: the arm can rotate 360 degrees like a battle tank turret. This allows excellent reach, enabling users to work more efficiently without moving the robot once it’s securely positioned on its outriggers.

Featuring a wide and expanding range of attachable tools and accessories, Husqvarna’s DXR machines are useful and efficient for virtually all heavy and hazardous work on any construction or refurbishing site. The Husqvarna robots have proved themselves ideal for breaking, crushing, shearing, digging, shoveling, grappling, surface removal and trenching.

Norwegian entrant
A recent arrival on the construction robot scene is Norwegian company nLink. This was founded in 2012 with the goal of revolutionizing the construction industry. The company has received several awards for its ground breaking, ceiling drilling robot and is now looking to expand its product range.

Headquartered in Sogndal, on the west coast of Norway, nLink has been at the cutting edge of developing customized and automated services for the construction industry. As a dedicated robotics company, it is building on its robotics expertise, with world class engineering, design and project management. The goal of the company is to increase construction productivity, efficiency and quality while reducing repetitive strain on construction workers.

Hephaestus EU project
Showing the high regard in which it is held, nLink is together with eight other international companies, is participating in the EU Project Hephaestus. This project aims to explore the innovative use of robots and autonomous systems in construction, a field where the incidence of such technologies is minor to non-existent. The project aims to increase market readiness and acceptance of key developments in cable robots and curtain walls.

The day of the robot is here
Whether we like it or not, robots are here and are part of the continuing automation in the construction industry. Although initially developed for specific demolition tasks, the construction robots are now of such varied size, shapes, weights and powers, that they are capable of dealing with various tasks encompassing many different applications.

About Roger Murrow: Roger is an editorial contributor to the FocusOn Group to offer interviews, insights and comments on the latest developments in the industry. 

Roger has been involved in the quarrying, tunneling, construction, demolition and recycling industries for 25 years. His experience involves senior marketing roles in a number of manufacturers, then as the founder of internationally renowned PR Consultancy MMC 2100 Ltd. In recent years, he has been using this experience to write articles for numerous international magazines on a variety of industry subjects.