Construction Facing "Perfect Storm" For Robotics

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Robison Wells
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ABB, the Switzerland-based engineering group behind much of the world's automotive factories' robotic assembly lines, holds that the post-pandemic state of mass construction and labor shortage indicates a prime time to integrate robotics into the process.

"The construction industry is facing the perfect storm," said Sami Atiya, president of Robotics & Discrete Automation at ABB. "There is huge demand for affordable housing and more sustainable solutions, and a shortage of skilled labor."

According to a survey of 1900 of the world's biggest construction firms, 81% said they plan to increase the use of robotics in the next ten years.

ABB currently builds robots that install elevators and produce components for prefabricated modular homes. More companies in the market also use ABB's steel frame welding robots. However, ABB says that's only scratching the surface. Japan's leading construction robotics company, FANUC, and Germany's Kuka dominate the $45 billion per year robot market.

Atiya expects growth in robotic sales to increase 3-5% in the coming years and robotics in construction to reach 20-30%.

"Construction is where automotive was about 50 years ago in terms of the density of robots and automation," he said. "It's coming from a lower base, but it is going to grow much faster."

Rather than selling individual robotics, companies like ABB focus on selling robotic systems, including the robots, the peripherals, and the software. Each system in the construction industry can range between $100,000 and $1 million.

"I am absolutely confident that we will perform better than the market. Double-digit sales growth over the next three years is what we are aiming for, and we have had a very good start in 2021."

Tempering expectations slightly, he acknowledged a sales drop in the United States and Europe in the first quarter of 2021, but that "fantastic growth" in China encourages him. He expects the other markets to improve as well.

ABB seeks growth in the robotics market amid high construction demand hampered by an absence of skilled laborers.

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