Demo Robots Innovating Today’s Jobsites
Demolition Robots on the Move
As sections of North America’s current infrastructure continues to show signs of aging, the need for selective demolition equipment is increasing. Demolition robots are becoming more of a common sight on many building and demolition jobsites. From commercial and industrial applications such as concrete floor removals in high-rise buildings, the repair of kilns for the steel-making process or the remodeling of a sensitive heritage building, robots can be found working.
Solving Challenges by Innovating
Contractors step onto jobsites today and are immediately faced with numerous and new challenges. From confined spaces, working at height, working in compromised structures and environments to engaging tough materials like concrete, steel or refractory that needs removal, modification or demolition. Add to this increasing regulations for workers regarding jobsite safety and it becomes a winding path to complete the job on time, on budget and with the best interests of the workers in mind. There are a lot of variables the contractor must take into account before figuring out the best solution to a job.
It might be a surprise to some, but demolition robots can hold the solutions to a lot of these challenges.
Remote Demolition Machine Capabilities
Demolition robots are very precise machines and, with a skilled operator at the controls, can remove a surface without damaging the material below. It is all about how the operator handles the remote and how well the remote communicates to the machine. Robots today are operated by a remote that is either controlled by radio frequency or Bluetooth technology. The Bluetooth-controlled machines are less likely to receive interference from surrounding signals and, therefore, can be more responsive.
A demolition robot’s secret weapon, however, is its compact footprint. Its footprint enables it to outperform excavators three to four classes larger in weight! What surprises many contractors when first approaching a demolition robot, is how small the machine is compared with how much force it can apply when breaking and crushing concrete, as well as having the ability to use a bucket attachment to aid in site cleanup.
Most small demolition robots can fit through the width of a standard-size doorway (31 inches) or ride in an elevator shaft, thanks to clever engineering that enables outriggers and tracks to fold, decreasing the width of the machine. The tracks also make it possible for the machines to climb stairs. The individually-controlled outriggers on some machines allow the operator to position the machine in hallways, stairwells and other tight areas so that it is stable and able to hit the intended site with enough force.
Working at Heights
Since these machines are compact and have a high power-to-weight ratio, they can be secured on a frame and raised in the air by crane to perform demolition of roof structures while minimizing weight on the structure. They can also be lifted up to remove building cladding or taking down smoke stacks. In many cases, workers would not be able to perform these type of applications or, if they could, it would be very time-consuming and not efficient.
In many demolition applications, the whole structure or a portion of it is being demolished due to deficiencies. Again, the high power-to-weight ratio enables the machine to move within the structure and have enough power to take care of the job at hand—all while keeping the operator and other workers safe.
Robots are increasingly being used for applications in steel and cement processing plants. Conventional methods for reworking these selected processes expose workers to increased injury and extend the critical path for economical rework time. Here, demolition robots stand out by working effectively and for extended time in hot, dusty and compromised environments.
People agree that demolition robots are “really cool.” However, many contractors believe these machines are not needed in their arsenal of equipment, either because of the associated price tag or because they believe they have enough manpower to take care of their projects. In many cases, these assumptions can be incorrect. Adding a robot to a contractor’s arsenal of tools can make their jobs easier, more efficient and ultimately more profitable. It also protects the operator and improves overall moral.
When compared to other methods and tools like mini excavators, skid steers, pneumatic and hydraulic hand tools, using remote operation is more ergonomic and the operator is less fatigued. They can focus on the work at hand for a longer period of time without getting physically worn out.
As has been discussed above, demolition robots can play a major role in keeping operators and other workers safe.
Jobsite safety is one of the top concerns for contractors, operators and regulatory agencies. However, sometimes it seems like the hardest issue to address and difficult to ensure proper procedures are followed. According to OSHA’s website, fall protection is the most frequently cited OSHA violation. A demolition robot addresses this issue by being a remotely-operated piece of equipment. It does not require the operator to be in an unsafe location.
Demolition robots solve a lot of the most common construction site issues, such as electrocution, getting caught in-between or struck by objects or materials, or machinery accidents. This is because the operator is removed from the work area and the robot takes their place. However, the operator still needs to be aware of what is going on around them.
Changing Workforce Demographics
Our workforce is in a constant stage of change. Many baby boomers remain in the workforce while younger generations approach work with a different paradigm, yet both demographics hold a great deal of value to the concept of working “smarter not harder.”
Younger workers are more adept to picking up a remote for a piece of equipment and knowing exactly how to operate it while at the same time enjoying it. Baby boomers are working longer into their lives than previous generations. This increases the need for tools that require less strength to operate and that reduce fatigue. Older generations in the current workforce have experienced far too many years of laboring using their strength to run equipment. According to Advisen’s white paper Construction Workplace Survey: Responding to Changing Demographics (1), “Baby Boomers are aging, and they are working longer. Between 1992 and 2012, the civilian labor force over 55 more than doubled. The U.S. Department of Labor projects it will grow a further 29 percent by 2022. At the same time, the number of workers between 16 and 24 is shrinking – by about 1 percent between 1992 and 2012, but falling by an expected 13 percent by 2022.”
Using robots can fill the workforce gap. For example, some contractors estimate that one demolition robot in a construction application may replace six or seven workers using conventional methods such as rivet busters or pneumatic breakers.
Advisen’s research also states, “The construction industry has experienced a shift in its workforce due to both broader demographic trends as well as business and economic forces that have shaped the sector over the past decade.” Again, this supports the idea of younger workers wanting to work smarter and more efficiently.
Demolition robots are the perfect tool for an increasingly specialized, industrial and electronic world. Business owners who plan to grow their companies and support their workers have to constantly look for new work processes, equipment and innovations. Just because something has always been done a certain way, does not mean it always has to be so. Look at the demolition robot. Who knew it could be used to help clean up after a nuclear disaster (2) or be mobilized via helicopter to help in a gondola renovation at the top of a mountain (3). The possibilities are endless.