The Swiss company ABB Robotics wants to take advantage of the shortage of skilled workers in the construction sector, which is currently growing rapidly, to grow its robotics business and diversify its operations beyond the automotive industry. ABB sees the construction sector as a new growth market for its robotics business. In the past 18 months, interest in automation in the construction industry has grown.
Its new robotic automation solutions could address key challenges, including the need for more affordable and environmentally friendly housing and to reduce the environmental impact of construction amidst a labor and skills shortage.
In recent years, the Swiss robotics company has been affected by the crisis in the automotive sector, which has traditionally been its main customer. In this context, the construction sector offers new business opportunities for ABB, especially in view of the important infrastructure investment programs it relies on to get the world economy out of the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a global survey commissioned by ABB of 1,900 large and small construction businesses in Europe, the US, and China, 91% said they face a skills crisis over the next 10 years, with 44% saying they struggle to recruit for construction jobs. Improving health and safety on building sites was a priority for 42%, and the same percentage said the environment is a key driver for industry change.
In the survey, 9 out of 10 construction businesses predict a skills crisis by 2030, with 81% saying they will introduce or increase the use of robotics and automation in the next decade. Only 55% of construction companies say they use robots, compared with 84% in Automotive and 79% in Manufacturing.
Additionally, construction workers account for around 30% of workplace injuries and are up to four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than other sectors, with an estimated 108,000 fatalities every year worldwide.
Robots can make construction safer by handling large and heavy loads, working in unsafe spaces, and enabling new, safer methods of construction. Using robots for the repetitive and dangerous tasks that people increasingly don’t want to do means automation can help support the industry’s labor and skills crisis and make construction careers more appealing to young people.
While ABB Robotics’ sales in the automotive market are expected to grow by 3% to 5% in the coming years, Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation Business Area, expects the construction industry to grow by 20% to 30% per year.
ABB is currently working on projects such as the robotic installation of elevators with Schindler Lifts and the robotic automation of Intelligent City’s production of prefabricated modular homes, increasing production efficiency by 15% and speed by speed 38% while reducing waste by 30%. While at Swedish construction company Skanska, ABB robots weld steel structures together to secure buildings.