Are robots going to take over the construction industry?

Weber UK

From bricklaying robots to 3D printing, the construction industry is evolving right before our very eyes. But will your future builder be a human or a humanoid?

For a while now there’s been a lot of talk – and concern – about whether or not robots and artificial intelligence (AI) will soon replace human workers. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, it’s estimated that more than 5.1 million jobs will be replaced by robots across all industries by the end of 2020, with half a million of them being construction jobs.

In America, a study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI) estimated that robots could replace or displace 2.7 million jobs in the construction industry in the country by 2057.

While there are some who have a higher potential for automation, like machinery operators (88%), there are quite a high number of other construction occupations that have a much smaller potential to be replaced/displaced by robots. Part of the reason why roofers (31%), construction labourers (35%) and sheet metal workers (39%) are less likely to be replaced is that it’s not technically feasible to replicate certain tasks using robots.

Because of the rise in awareness and the prominence of modern methods of construction (MMC), it’s worth noting that robots and AIs fall into Category 7 of the MMC definition framework.

Category 7 is intended to encompass approaches utilising innovative site-based construction techniques that harness site process improvements falling outside of the previous categories. It includes factory standard workface encapsulation measures, lean construction techniques, physical and digital worker augmentation, workface robotics, exoskeletons and other wearables, drones, verification tools and adoption of new technology-led plant and machinery.

Self-driving vehicles, computer-controlled manufacturing robots, drones and large-scale 3D printers are just a few of the robots promising to take over traditional construction activities such as materials handling, packing, cutting, bricklaying and rebar tying. Here’s a list of some of them:


Built from steel, aluminium and carbon fibre composites, the Hadrian X handles the automatic loading, cutting, routing and placement of all bricks. Controlled by a network of computers, robot vision cameras, servo motors and a laser tracker, according to current performance estimates it can lay approximately 1,000 bricks per hour, in comparison to an average 300-400 by a human bricklayer, and can complete the end-to-end bricklaying of a house in up to three days.

Using an industrial adhesive instead of traditional mortar, which increases the strength of the structure by four to five times, the Hadrian X also boasts state-of-the-art compensation systems. So despite the movement of the 30m-long boom and external factors such as wind and vibration, the component that actually places the brick stays perfectly still – allowing a high degree of accuracy.


Doxel robots and AIs monitor site progress with real-time, actionable data through the use of drones equipped with high-definition cameras and LiDAR to photograph and scan construction sites. The scans are then used to compare against technical drawings, schedules and estimates to inspect the quality of the work performed and to determine how much progress has been made each day.

Using deep-learning algorithms to identify and report errors in work performed, Doxel can tell you how much work was done each day which it can then compare against your construction schedule and alert you if your project is falling behind. The AI also detects deviations between installed components and onsite work with models so you can quickly identify errors and avoid costly rework.


Developed to excavate smaller construction sites, Built Robotics’ Automated Track Loader (ATL) uses specially designed LiDAR (remote sensing technology) to accommodate for vibrations in order to see where it is going and to measure the material being excavated. With augmented GPS, the combination of onsite base stations and satellites are used to geofence the site and to move the track loader around the site with precision accuracy.

Instead of building an entirely new piece of heavy equipment, the electronics for the ATL are housed in a cargo carrier that attaches to the cab to retrofit existing compact track loaders. Operating at about the same speed as a human operator, the system also has a collision detection system to prevent the loader from coming into contact with workers or other equipment on the construction site.


Developed by Advanced Construction Robotics Inc., the TyBot can continuously tie rebar with only one worker needed to oversee it. It might not seem all that glamorous, but by filling a very specific need on site it eradicates the back-breaking work brought on by bending over and tying thousands of rebar intersections that can later lead to strains and other injuries.

Moving along a gantry to identify each intersection, the TyBot ties the rebar and then moves on to the next intersection. This allows a crew to be more productive because once they’ve placed the rebar, they can move on to the next job while the TyBot does its work. According to its inventor, TyBot can match the speed of about six to eight site workers.


At present, there’s a lot of hype surrounding 3D printing. With its high precision and ability to eliminate waste – this due to their ability to create components only using the material required with no offcuts – while continually reducing the price and size of technology, is there any wonder why there is so much attention being paid to 3D printing?

In 2018, a family in Nantes became the first in the world to move into a 3D-printed house. The 95m2 four-bedroom property took just 54 hours to print on site. Allowing a further four months for contractors to add windows, doors and a roof to the property, it cost in the region of £176,000 to build making it 20% cheaper than an identical construction that used more traditional solutions.

In the same year, Weber in the Netherlands designed and constructed the world’s first 3D printed bridge. Working with the Technology University of Eindhoven, which specializes in engineering science and technology, Weber developed a new mortar for 3D printing that produces less waste. Using a series of layers to create complex shapes for a huge variety of applications, it was presented at the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit in Abu Dhabi.


Current robots are good at doing simple, repetitive tasks, which is why we’re seeing things like bricklaying robots and rebar tying robots, but while they’re able to work continuously and faster than human workers, they still require workers to set them up and get them started. Plus, sites are unpredictable environments that robots are not yet intelligent enough to maneuver seamlessly.

Also, most robots are currently prototypes with technological limitations that do not comply with current Building Regulations or health and safety requirements. Large-scale 3D printers remain far from compliant with EU buildings codes and are prohibitively expensive.

The more likely scenario, for the immediate future, is the use of cobots – machines that work alongside humans. “Just as the industry progressed from using screwdrivers to power drills, in the future it will progress from power drills to the use of cobots,” Neil Thompson, director of digital construction at engineering consultancy SNC-Lavalin Atkins, told Construction Manager magazine. “Skilled trades will not be lost; they will instead gain the skill of programming cobots to help them with the bulk of their tasks.”

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