Home » Robotics partnership looks to automate modular housing

Robotics partnership looks to automate modular housing

by Mark Cantrell
ABB Robotics is working with Porsche Consulting on a pilot to automate the manufacture of modular housing units using robots

A pilot project is in development to drive automation in the construction industry using robots in the manufacture of modular housing components.

ABB Robotics, headquartered in Switzerland, is collaborating with Porsche Consulting to deliver the project to develop innovative new practices in modular housing manufacture.

The collaboration will help to meet the need for more affordable and sustainable buildings, and reduce the environmental impact of construction, amidst widespread labour and skills shortages.

Eberhard Weiblen, chairman of the executive board at Porsche Consulting, said: “The construction industry is facing numerous challenges. Highly automated factories for buildings can deliver higher quality and more affordable housing.

“In combining ABB’s leading robotic solutions and Porsche Consulting’s knowledge in planning and running state-of-the-art factories, we want to help transform this important industry.”

Marc Segura, president of the ABB Robotics division, added: “We think there is a clear opportunity to transform this sector and the way homes are built by automating the process of manufacturing modular components.

“Greater, more intelligent automation is the answer to widespread labour shortages, and this collaboration will boost productivity, allow greater customization and enable more sustainable and efficient construction practices.”

Construction-related occupations typically dominate the list of labour shortages. This is a contributing factor to the shortage of housing in many countries.

In the United States, labour shortages are contributing to a housing shortfall of nearly four million homes, while Germany is forecast to have housing supply shortages in 35 of its cities by 2030.

The traditional construction sector is struggling to meet the demand for new homes, while the environmental performance and efficiency of buildings also needs to improve, along with the adoption of more sustainable construction methods.

Sector challenge

These challenges include reducing the transportation of raw materials to construction sites, and eliminating the corresponding costs and impact of removing unwanted materials and waste. This is estimated to account for up to 25% of the material transported to a building site.

Modular construction is widely acknowledged to yield efficiencies through the reduction in material wastage, and the number of days lost to adverse weather conditions. Factories also provide a safer and more hospitable working environment, as construction workers account for around 30% of workplace injuries, and are four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident versus other sectors.

However, construction lags behind other industries in adoption of automation and robotics.

In a global survey commissioned by ABB of 1,900 large and small construction businesses in Europe, the US and China, only 55% of construction companies say they use robots, compared with 84% in automotive, and 79% in manufacturing.

The survey also shows 81% of construction businesses plan to introduce or increase the use of robotics and automation in the next decade.

Weiblen added: “We understand the importance of sustainable housing and believe the transfer of technology and expertise to the construction sector will deliver the positive impact we have seen in other industries.”

Segura added: “We will bring our blueprint to life and demonstrate how robotic modular construction can help support the changes our society is demanding. The joint approach will take modular construction to a new level in terms of quality, efficiency, design, and sustainability.”

Main image: Conceptual illustration of robotically manufactured modular housing. Courtesy of ABB Robotics

Read next: University to launch £1.5m centre for net zero construction

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