Send a robot, save a life?

Send a robot, save a life?

Demolition robots are a relatively new form of professional service robot used in the demolition sector to demolish buildings at the end of their lifecycle. These mobile robots leverage a range of end-of-arm tools such as breakers, crushers, drills, or buckets to break through building materials.

Demolition technology is advancing globally and this is having a positive impact on the local sector. While remote demolition has been available for many years in the form of remote-control units that can be fitted to a building, it has its limitations.

“This type of technology is used specifically where there is a risk of soil subsidence during sinkhole remediation. The machine operator is able to control the machine from a distance. However, there is a definite compromise on precision and reactivity,” explains Kate Bester, contracts and project manager at Jet Demolition – the largest demolition company in Africa.

“For the most part, being able to read and assess a structure’s behaviour is paramount to the safety of the team, which is very difficult to do from a distance. For this reason, our use of remote-demolition practices is very restricted,” she continues. Oftentimes, remote-controlled techniques are reserved for instances where it simply is not practically possible to approach a structure safely using conventional demolition techniques; a considered decision is made to approach the structure remotely, in the interest of safety.

Most demolition robots resemble small excavators, minus the cab. They are designed to function effectively in confined spaces and fit, for example, through doorways and stairways. Demolition robots occupy 90% of the total market for construction robots, as the A3 Association for Advancing Automation (North America’s largest automation trade association, representing more than 1,300 organisations involved in robotics, artificial intelligence, machine vision and imaging, motion control, and related automation technologies) points out.

These machines are one of the first commercially viable types of service robot to tackle applications in a traditionally labour-intensive industry. The value of the overall construction robot market was anticipated to be US$321 million in 2022, with a global compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.7% from 2016 to 2022, A3 adds.

In addition to demolition robots, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) are one of the latest and most innovative automation solutions available. AMRs differ from automated guided vehicles (AGVs) by their degree of autonomy, with AMRs far more independent and adaptable than AGVs; they can navigate complex environments and avoid obstacles without the need for external guidance systems. 

“Automating demolition is all about safety and efficiency,” says Bester, adding that it also has the potential to reduce costs for both demolition and construction companies. Robotic automation places human workers out of harm’s way and allows them to be more productive. She notes that while the initial capex is high due to it being a relatively new technology, the long-term return on investment and impact on health and safety more than offset the initial cost.

“Our main concern is for the safety of people. Our methods, resources, and approach are all aligned exactly to serve this purpose. We have been in business since 1994 and have kept our focus on the main objective of completing a project safely, on time, and to international standards,” concludes Bester.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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