Robots improve construction drilling process

15 February 2021
Dubai-based contractor enjoys tangible gains after deploying robotic solution

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In conversation with Nathan Hanns, general manager of Alemco

Q. How did the collaboration between Alec and Hilti come about?

In 2017, Alec created a dedicated group – part of the innovation department – in order to explore the potential of utilising robotics in construction. After a series of brainstorming sessions, a robotics brief was prepared and an opportunity to develop a construction robot was identified.

Our main objective was to automate standard work practices on our sites in order to improve installation accuracy while simultaneously reducing overall installation time and cost.

At the time, drilling was identified as one of the first tasks that should be automated, so the initial design intent called for a robotic arm on wheels that would be able to position itself using the global positioning system (GPS) and obtain inputs from building information modeling (BIM) software.

Shared with global companies specialising in robotics, the brief outlined that the robot needed to be designed for use on construction projects, as opposed to being used in a factory setting. During the research and development phase, Alec collaborated with a separate firm that had built its own robot that had the ability to position itself using GPS, as well as to derive inputs from the BIM software provided.

Upon conducting further research during the development stage, it was discovered that a drilling robot was already under development by a collaboration of a Norwegian startup and Hilti.

Fast-forward to February 2019, when one of Hilti’s board members visited the UAE and held meetings with Alec’s innovation team to discuss areas of possible collaboration.

During these meetings, the teams shed light on the importance of initially testing the robot, and an agreement was made to bring the drilling robot to Dubai in order to continue its field testing on Alec’s flagship project, One Za’abeel. Following the finalisation of all testing, the robotic system was fully deployed at One Za’abeel from January to October 2020, across several floors.

Q. How does the Hilti Jaibot work?

The Hilti Jaibot is a semi-autonomous robot that increases productivity by reducing the time required to drill anchor points. Used for the connection of hanger rods, the anchor points support systems vertically by strengthening several services from the soffit on a construction project. The robot is data-driven and derives its anchor point location from a BIM model and from outputs delivered by project managers to track the progress.

The robot requires a comma separated value (CSV) type file, wherein each line contains information pertaining to one anchor point. The information includes control point coordinates, drill point coordinates, the depth of the hole, the drilling diameter of the hole and the type of service that the hole will be responsible for supporting.

This array of information is pulled from the coordinated BIM model by one of Alec’s BIM modelers and it is then uploaded to Hilti’s online system as a CSV file. After the process has been validated, the drilling can then commence.

Q. What are the benefits of using Jaibot as opposed to conventional drilling processes?

Following the trial in January 2019, we carried out a full business case study to evaluate the robot's potential with measurements and calculations that compared it to traditional methods. We found that the majority of the time saved was linked to the ‘setting out’, which was reduced on average by 10 times. We also saw additional gains in drilling time that were in the low double digits.

This has resulted in the saving of thousands of drill points required on the project, which fully validates the added value we expected. However, it must be said that for optimal operation of the robot, careful planning, an open area with minimal debris or obstacles and unworked soffits are required; key control points must also be set out. It also best that a combination of finalised coordinates and drilling data from the BIM model be used before works are executed on site.

Q. Were there any permissions needed from the client Ithra Dubai to engage Jaibot on the One Za’abeel project?

We work closely with all our clients to keep them in the loop, helping them to stay aware of all the initiatives happening on the projects. We have also updated all the necessary method statements and risk assessments to support the Jaibot operation, while prioritising the health, safety and wellbeing of our personnel. The Ithra Dubai project team was also very supportive of the initiative and granted us the necessary approvals.

Q. How can tools such as Hilti Jaibot help to counter the issue of waste and improve productivity in construction processes?

A key benefit of using Jaibot is that it forces all stakeholders to finalise the design and fully coordinate all information before Jaibot performs its duties.

Using Jaibot also guarantees safety as there is minimal human interaction, and quality and productivity are top-tier due to the quality of materials and processes used. Waste pertaining to the specific task is significantly reduced: the robot uses 100 per cent accurate information, leaving little room for waste.

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