How Robotics And Human Augmentation Benefit The HVAC Trade
The term ‘robotics’ refers to technology or machines that substitute or replicate human actions. ‘Human augmentation’ is another term, referring to the use of technology to reduce strain and fatigue as workers perform strenuous tasks over long periods of time. Hilti Group has introduced robots and semi-automated technologies to the construction trades, including HVAC.
The role of these technologies in the HVAC market is to increase efficiency and accuracy, reduce costs, and decrease physical strain/injury of HVAC installers on the jobsite. Two Hilti products, Jaibot and the EXO-O1 exoskeleton, can make workers’ lives better by reducing risk on the jobsite, increasing productivity, and improving the quality and consistency of work.
Reducing worker fatigue
Jaibot is a semi-autonomous mobile, overhead drilling robot. It executes its tasks based on building information modeling (BIM) data. The robot is a cordless and easy-to-use system that does not require expert skills. It locates itself accurately indoors, drills the holes while controlling dust, and finally marks them according to trade. Jaibot provides faster, safer and more accurate execution of digitally coordinated mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems on the jobsite.
Jaibot performs the ceiling drilling and marking, thus allowing the workforce to focus on installation
Jaibot is designed to work with workers, not replace them, by taking on strenuous and repetitive tasks that have been shown to put workers’ health at risk. Guided by a trained operator, Jaibot performs the ceiling drilling and marking, thus allowing the workforce to focus on installation. This makes jobsite teams faster, more productive, reduces worker fatigue and enables them to deliver a constant plannable output, according to Hilti.
Required drilling information
“One of the few pitfalls the BIM process encounters is getting the digitally coordinated and designed project from the office and out onto the job site,” says Aidan Maguire, Business Unit Manager for Hilti North America’s Measuring, Layout and Robotics technologies.
“While traditional methods will take the BIM model and print out paper or utilize 2D blueprints to use to install anchors, the Jaibot works directly from the coordinated digital design or BIM model using a point cloud of the anchor locations. Jaibot can also read the required drilling information such as drilling diameter, drilling depth, trade or system from the BIM model. This allows the semi-autonomous Jaibot to operate directly from the most up-to-date digital model.”
The Hilti EXO-O1 is a wearable human augmentation system designed to reduce fatigue and strain. The exoskeleton is designed for workers performing strenuous overhead tasks for long periods of time.
Performing overhead work
Long-term, the EXO-O1 contributes to prevention of musculoskeletal disorders
This system will allow its user to perform the overhead installation of HVAC systems while reducing the injuries and errors that come with the normal fatigue common from this type of work. Hilti’s research shows that users who perform overhead work for more than 60% of their time benefit from up to 47% reduction of load on their shoulders. With decreasing strain and fatigue, the EXO-O1 allows users to remain productive while working safer for longer periods. Long-term, the EXO-O1 contributes to prevention of musculoskeletal disorders.
The upfront costs of these systems are designed to be competitive when compared to traditional methods, says Maguire. “The other benefits of the systems such as rework, injuries, and labor costs, while increasing productivity and accuracy all provide extensive and sometimes immeasurable benefits for the systems’ operators,” Maguire adds.
Human augmentation systems
Human augmentation systems help overcome labor shortages in the HVAC trade in several ways. They are not designed to replace workers but rather to augment the workforce by taking over strenuous and repetitive tasks that have been shown to put workers’ health at risk. The augmentation systems help to reduce absentee days, fill gaps caused by a diminishing qualified workforce, and allow the workforce to focus on more value-adding tasks, thus contributing to higher and more consistent outputs.
These systems help construction companies retain the tenured workforce already in place
These systems help construction companies retain the tenured workforce already in place and attract new talent to the industry by offering more attractive working conditions and the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art technologies. The cost of a robotic system like Jaibot can be directly compared to other methods of overhead drilling all the way down to a per-point cost.
Quicker project delivery
These systems have a direct impact on the time and labor required to complete these tasks and can provide value through supplementing the requirement for skilled labor, reducing labor cost, and providing time savings on the critical path of a project to enable quicker project delivery and potentially meeting targeted schedule bonuses.
Additionally, while these technologies are relatively new to the construction industry, as the utilization of these systems increases there will be the opportunity to study and quantify the health and safety savings over time. Both the Hilti Jaibot and EXO-O1 exoskeleton are new innovations currently being rolled out across the United States. “As with all innovations, it is often not the technology that drives adoption, but human beings,” says Maguire.
Adopting new technologies
The key to overcoming this mindset is to closely support the first adopters of this technology"
“While we see a clear advantage of deploying mobile robotic or human augmentation solutions for certain tasks and observe an increase in activity in the market, it is hard to predict how long this will take. We envisage that significant progress will be made over the next five years. As the construction industry continues to move towards digitalization, more and more companies will look for technology that gives them an advantage over their competitors, and Jaibot and EXO-O1 will help them do exactly that.”
The biggest obstacle for greater deployment is the construction industries’ resistance to change, says Maguire. The phrase ‘because this is how we’ve always done it’ is prevalent in construction. Many construction companies are risk-adverse and prefer to continue to utilize the tried-and-tested methods of the past.
“The key to overcoming this mindset is to closely support the first adopters of this technology in order to quantify and provide proof of the many benefits of adopting these new technologies and methods,” says Maguire.