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Robots build a dam in Japan

visual of a dam (Photo courtesy of Obayashi)
obayashi-tomisatu-dam (Photo courtesy of Obayashi)
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Nikkei Asian Review website reports that the Japanese construction company Obayashi builds a dam in Mie Prefecture in Japan almost entirely with robots.

As the nation is facing an industry’s labor shortage and aging workforce, dam construction is considered highly suitable for automation since it involves a lot of repetition. Moreover, the construction is happening outside of population centers and that makes the testing environment much safer for bystanders.

The pilot study

Obayashi company has automated the concrete laying to build the 84-meter long and 334-meter-wide dam. In addition, a plant has been built near the site to make concrete and further streamline the construction process. The structure is due to be complete in March 2023 as per current expectations.

visual of dam construction site in Japan
The construction site in Japan (Photo courtesy of Obayashi)

In the so far known world years of practice and experience on how to properly build a dam were needed. Whereas, nowadays by using an automated equipment that process can be shortened and expedited.

“By transferring expert techniques to machines, we’re able to analyze what was once implicit knowledge,” said Akira Naito, head of Obayashi’s dam technology unit.

Obayashi Corp’s technology is aiming to be a game-changer in the construction business showcasing the success of this trial project.

The body of the dam is built in layers by pouring concrete into partitions, 15 sq.m. each. The position of the partitions, the progress of construction and the tower cranes, that pour the concrete, are all controlled remotely by office computers.

Human supervision is still needed for safety reasons, but the machines are self-operating the initial process.

Uneven layers still need human professionals’ attention to prevent breaches.

Improvement and Expectations

Despite all the automations in place, Obayashi says that productivity has only increased by around 10%. Reason for this is the fact that workers on site are still needed in case of an emergency.

“Eventually, we may be able to cut building time by 30%,” said Naito.

visual construction worker observing a machine

According to Japan Federation of Construction Contractors 35% of construction workers in Japan are over 55 years old. This fact pushes companies to develop robots and capture employees’ expertise before they retire. Bringing technology into the sector companies are hoping to attract younger generation and encourage them to start working in construction.

New overtime restrictions will take effect as of 2024 guaranteeing two days off a week on a construction site. Certainly, this puts even more pressure on companies to use automation technology. This of course not only for dams, but also in other types of constructions as well. It is no longer just about boosting productivity, but also a key competitiveness factor.

Robots might be the future of this industry and Japanese companies are already testing out that concept.