Worker Shortage Prompts the Use of Construction Robots in Japan

In an effort to bridge the gap in labour workers in Japan, robots that are able to lift, weld, and bolt are being developed by Japanese firms such as Shimizu Corp. which had a showcase of their creations last April 23, including a robot that is already being used at domestic construction sites to lift and carry a huge pile of boards off to an elevator.

The Robo-Buddy and Robo-Welder, with their twisting and rotating mechanical arms, are set to be deployed on construction sites towards the end of this year according to the company.

By Phasmatisnox, CC BY 3.0

Development of Skilled Robots Aims to Bridge Labour Gap in Construction Sector

At present, Japan’s construction sector is really taking off but contractors are having difficulties filling in the manpower requirements needed – a global trend that has also been observed in other countries including the USA.

The deployment of the skilled robots showcased at a Shimizu test facility in Tokyo can significantly reduce the number of workers required for the tasks to be done in construction sites by as much as a third or a fourth that is needed today.

However, construction work requires a variety of delicate and complex skills that the robots are only able to perform one per cent of the entire construction work to be done, according to a statement by Masahiro Indo, the managing executive officer of Shimizu Corp, who is in-charge of overseeing the development of construction technology.

To raise the amount of work covered by robots by up to 10 per cent would definitely be a huge challenge and may prove to be too costly according to Indo.

The use of robotics in manufacturing plants has been a common sight in auto plants, but these machines do not need to move from one place to another and only perform the same set of tasks over and over again, usually in an enclosed and controlled environment whereas robots used at construction sites need to be mobile. And while most of the tasks they carry out are one and the same, they need to move around uneven floors and varying routes, depending on a building structure’s design.

Shimizu Corp has been developing their own artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, and has used them on robots manufactured by Kuka Robotics from Germany.

If everything goes as planned, the robots could help minimize the safety risks at work and the total amount of hours invested by labourers at work. As for Shimizu, which has been involved in a number of overseas projects in this field, it’s only a matter of time before they decide to export their products overseas.

With Japan’s dropping birth rates over the past few years, the current workforce has also seen a downward trend in the number of labourers which is starting to affect some of Japan’s industries at the moment. Also, most of the construction workers nowadays come from the older population. Furthermore, contractors are struggling to attract young people to join the workforce, Indo shared.

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