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ABB Robotics 2021 Construction Survey

Global summary

A global survey of 1,900 small and large construction and associated businesses (architects and designers, component suppliers, contractors and subcontractors and consultant) in Europe, North America and China, has been carried out by Sassy on behalf of ABB. The survey took place between April and May 2021.

The survey was targeted at C-level Management (CEO, CFO, COO etc) and Directors. Key findings included the fact that 9 out of 10 construction businesses surveyed predict a skills crisis by 2030, with 81 percent saying they will introduce robots in the next 10 years. According to the survey, safety and the environment are both major catalysts for accelerating investment in robotics.

saying they will introduce robots in the next 10 years

Construction generally lags behind other sectors in the adoption of robotics.

of companies surveyed saying they use robots

in Automotive

in Manufacturing

While the statistics do provide an encouraging sign that the construction industry is embracing robotic automation, the comparison with the automotive and manufacturing sectors suggests room for significant growth for robotic technologies and automation in the market, with huge potential for improvement in the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of the industry.

COVID-19 has of course had an impact on the construction industry, but it is merely one of many structural challenges facing businesses.

of respondents say that they struggle to recruit for construction jobs, and observe that with fewer skilled workers coming into the industry, a shortage of labour is likely to become more acute within the next 10 years

This could well spur a renewed focus on health and safety on construction sites to help attract new talent and improve worker productivity. More than a third of those surveyed indicated that they struggle in particular to recruit and retain staff for roles that are dull, repetitive and dangerous.

of businesses in Switzerland reported that they currently use robots or robotics

of businesses in Germany reported that they currently use robots or robotics

of businesses in Sweden reported that they currently use robots or robotics

These countries are also among those where knowledge and understanding of the benefits that robotics can offer for the construction industry are highest.

of businesses invest in robotics because they wish to improve safety and remove workers from unsafe tasks

are looking primarily to reduce project times and achieve faster build times

Survey methodology

The 2021 ABB Construction Survey, conducted by Sassy, included 1900 CEO/Managing Director level decision-makers in large and small construction businesses in the US, China, UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and Austria. Conducted in April and May 2021, the survey has been compiled by Sassy utilizing industry-standard panel management systems and adhering to stringent quality control procedures; delivering double opt-in, GDPR-compliant consumer and B2B panels.

Number of businesses surveyed in each country:

Sectors covered by the survey:To reflect the wide range of applications using robots worldwide, the survey covered a representative range of different specialisms within the construction industry, comprised as follows:

Key findings from the ABB Robotics 2021 Construction Survey

1

Nearly all construction companies anticipate a skills crisis by 2030

Of the 1,900 people surveyed, 1,734 responded yes to at least some extent to the question “Do you think the construction industry faces a skills crisis over the next 5-10 years?”, amounting to 91 percent of respondents. This sentiment was reflected strongly across all countries surveyed:

Do you think the construction industry faces a “skills crisis” over the next 5-10 years?

Evidently, the issue of skills shortages is a major concern for the construction industry. Supporting this finding, 41 percent of respondents across all countries said that they were currently worried about the lack of people joining the industry, although this was less of a concern in China, where only 16 percent of people identified it as a concern. A further 36 percent of people said that their business struggles to recruit and retain staff for roles that are either perceived as repetitive and dull tasks, or which include dirty or potentially dangerous tasks.

It should be noted that while the problem of future worker shortages is a concern, only 10 percent said that they currently struggle with labour shortages on their projects. This could suggest that a lack of labour and skills is not of great concern today, but is a problem that is widely perceived across the construction industry to be inevitable in the future.

Many in the industry see robots and robotics as a way of addressing the skills shortage, chiefly by making construction a more attractive and safe industry in which to work.

say that robots and automation could make their workplace potentially safer for employees

say that robotics and automation could either reduce the potential for injuries

say that robots undertake or could undertake some of the dirty, dangerous and repetitive tasks that many employees do not enjoy doing

Robots can help to improve safety, working conditions and employee performance

With more than 200,000 vacancies for low and high-skilled workers in the EU alone in Q2 2020, the issue of industry labour shortage in the construction industry is a growing issue, with younger people put off construction careers by perceptions that it is a dirty and dangerous occupation involving repetitive tasks. In terms of safety, construction is one of the most dangerous industry sectors in the world, with above average levels of deaths and injuries. Construction workers account for around 30 percent of workplace injuries and are up to four times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident vs. other sectors, with an estimated 108,000 fatalities every year worldwide.

Robots can make construction safer by handling large and heavy loads, accessing dangerous spaces and enabling new, safer methods of construction. Using robots for the repetitive and dangerous tasks that people increasingly do not want to do means automation can help support the industry’s labour and skills crisis and make construction careers more appealing to young people.

Highlighting the importance of the human factor, these results demonstrate that robots are being used to help improve working conditions and job satisfaction and enhance workplace safety. By providing an alternative means of handling repetitive, dangerous and difficult jobs, robots can help to greatly enhance worker performance and minimize issues arising from boredom, injury or error. Increased adoption of robotic technologies, and improved accessibility to them along with better training, will be important in the coming years in reducing the severity of an anticipated skills shortage.

The potential for robots to boost efficiency, speed and performance could also be key in addressing the sector’s poor productivity. According to a 2017 report by global consultants McKinsey&Company (Reinventing construction: a route to higher productivity), productivity in the construction sector averaged growth of just 1 percent per year in the period from 1997 to 2017, compared to 2.8 percent for the total world economy and 3.6 percent for manufacturing.

2

Safety and the environment are expected to be major catalysts for accelerating investment in robotics

of businesses believe that health and safety will be a future driver for change within the construction industry over the next 10 years

One of the main benefits that robots can bring in construction applications is the ability to improve worker safety by taking over tasks that have traditionally presented risks to health and safety such as heavy lifting, working at height or operating in dusty or enclosed spaces. This will have the added benefit of making construction a more attractive industry in which to work, making it easier to hire talent and upskill a business’ workforce.

Which issues do you consider are the future drivers for change within the construction industry over the next 10 years?

Perhaps surprisingly, consumer demands were cited by only 18 percent of respondents, unlike in many other industries where the consumer can have a far greater influence. The constant need for more housing, both low-cost and premium, as well as government targets for home building to satisfy a growing demand for housing were also cited by around a third of respondents. One reason for this is the megatrend of urbanisation, which is seeing millions of people moving to cities in search of a better standard of living and access to employment and services that cannot be found in rural areas. At current rates, the United Nations, predicts that 68 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, compared to 55 percent today, potentially adding 2.5 billion people to urban areas (source: https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html).

Linked to satisfying this demand is the growing need for sustainable development, with the homes of the future needing to be built to deliver improved levels of lifelong energy efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. 42 percent of survey respondents indicated that the environment and sustainability are key drivers for change over the next 10 years. This was the response given by the most participants in the survey, and reflects a worldwide trend of sustainability issues driving change. China, with 51 percent, was the country to place the most emphasis on the environment as a catalyst.

With the industry facing increased environmental regulation and the need for more high quality, lower cost homes, robotic automation reduces waste by improving quality and consistency, which is significant when it’s estimated that the amount of waste generated by construction and demolition will reach 2.2 billion tonnes per year by 2025 (Source: Transparency Market Research, quoted - https://www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/construction/03/2019/global-efforts-to-cut-construction-industry-waste-and-improve-sustainability/1417/).

Developments in robotic automation for construction promise to help reduce this, with techniques such as 3D printing and improved accuracy in timber modular construction, for example, both allowing greatly improved control over the application of materials used in construction.

Added possibilities are also being enabled by the combination of robots with digital 3D CAD modelling software, which allow builders to effectively design waste out at the beginning of a project through effective building design and construction processes.

3

The construction industry lags behind other industries in adopting robotic technologies, but this is likely to accelerate quickly

According to the survey, 55 percent of construction companies say they use robots, compared with 84 percent in Automotive and 79 percent in Manufacturing (Source: ABB robotic automation survey 2020).

Does your business currently use robots or robotics?

However, there is appetite within the construction industry to accelerate adoption, with 81 percent of construction businesses saying they will introduce or increase the use of robotics and automation in the next decade.

Is your business likely to introduce or increase your use of robotics and automation for your workplace in the next decade?

Most construction companies are intending to either invest in robotics, or increase their investment within the next 10 years, with only 6% stating that they had no intention whatsoever. The weighting of survey responses that answered yes within the next 2 or 2-5 or 5-10 years suggests that more widespread implementation of robotics is likely to happen sooner rather than later, and that in 10 years’ time more than two thirds of construction businesses will be using robotics and automation in their businesses.

Respondents suggested a broad range of applications in which they intended to use robots in the future. Of the “NET Yes” respondents, these included:

The expected benefits from the use of robots were also varied. Reducing project times, and improving the working environment for employees were cited by the most as ways in which automation and robotics could help the industry, with consistent quality (29%) and increasing possibilities for building design (32%) also being seen as key ways in which robotic automation could help deliver improvements:

4

Uncertainty, lack of understanding of robotics technology and its benefits, and a perceived lack of skills are some of the reasons why investment in robotics has been slow in the construction industry

Historically, the construction industry has been slower to embrace new technologies than other sectors. The most cited reason for not investing in robotics was a lack of belief that either the business or the industry was not suited to robotic automation. The question was answered only by respondents who had indicated that their business does not currently use any robotics.

What has stopped your business from investing in robotics so far?

The key takeaway from the responses to this question is that there is a lack of education and awareness surrounding the potential benefits of robots, with almost a third claiming that their business is not compatible with them. And yet this is unlikely to be the case, as robots can help address almost all of the challenges facing the industry as identified in section 2. Wastage, for example, is a significant issue in construction, and one that robots can help to dramatically reduce the impact and costs of. From the survey responses, it appears that many companies are not aware of this benefit.

26 percent of respondents identified a lack of knowledge about how automation could help their business, while 14 percent said that robots are too difficult to use. Robots are an advanced technology, but innovations in recent years have made them more accessible, more efficient and more versatile than ever before. Advances in user interfaces and ease of use, along with developments in machine vision and CAD systems, mean that it now takes comparatively little training to be able to program and operate modern robots, while their adaptability makes them suited to an extremely wide range of tasks and duties on a typical construction site, particularly those where there are health and safety risks for human workers. There are very few tasks in the construction industry that modern robotics and automation technologies cannot carry out or assist with.

These innovations open up new possibilities for the construction industry. Robots allow buildings to be constructed more quickly and at a lower cost, allowing more projects to be completed in less time, with greater accuracy and less wastage. This in turn allows construction businesses to be more agile and flexible in the design of buildings, and can help to provide more choice for the end customer. This added flexibility means that there no longer needs to be a “one size fits all” approach to housing design, allowing greater input from the customer and greater freedom to design and build customised structures utilising different designs and materials that can help to make future homes more energy efficient and sustainable throughout their lifetime.

Robots can also directly help to address the skills shortage, identified by many as the number one challenge facing the industry, by taking workers away from high risk or repetitive tasks, and improving health and safety. This helps to make construction a more attractive prospect for workers, while freeing up labour to be deployed more effectively elsewhere.

More education is clearly required to generate awareness of the capabilities of modern robotics technologies.

of survey respondents reporting that they were unsure where to start with introducing robotics and automation to their business

It seems that robotics manufacturers can do more to smoothen the pathway towards adopting the technology, while highlighting the ease with which modern robotics can now be deployed, and the wide range of applications in which they can be used.

5

There are many regional variances in attitudes towards robotics from country to country

UK Overview
  • Of those who do use robotics, 52% cited reduced project times as a main benefit, while 45% said that it allowed them to remove workers from unsafe tasks and improve health and safety.
  • These results do to some extent reflect the patterns identified in the International Federation of Robotics’ league table of robot-adopting nations, with the UK in particular substantially behind other developed nations such as China, Germany, France and Italy.
  • 58% of construction businesses say that they will invest in robotics or add to their existing installed base within the next 10 years, while a further 30% were either unsure or did not have a time frame. 9% are not intending to at all.
  • 62% of businesses identify a lack of people joining the industry as a major issue, while 89% anticipate a skills crisis over the next 5-10 years.
  • The reason given by the most respondents for not investing in robotics is a lack of belief that the business is suitable for robotic automation. This view was shared by 38% of businesses.
  • 41% of respondents indicated that they were not aware of how robotic automation could be a solution for the construction industry.
USA Overview
  • The most cited benefits of those who do or are considering doing so is reduced project times (56%), and removing workers from unsafe tasks (51%). 44% said that robotics could help tackle the skills shortage, while 40% said that robots could be used to relieve workers from tedious tasks.
  • 62% of businesses say they are intending to invest in robotics within the next 10 years or add to their installed base, with a further 28% either unsure or unsure of the timeframe.
  • 48% say that recruiting skilled staff is the biggest challenge facing USA construction companies, while 47% consider health and safety to be a major challenge.
  • Of the businesses that do not use robotics, 41% of businesses say this is due to a lack of belief that the business is suited for robotics, while 35% say that their employees and customers prefer interacting with people.
  • 46% of respondents indicated that they were not aware of the benefits of robotic automation for the construction industry.
Canada Overview
  • 44% of those surveyed said that a major benefit of robotics was that it could help reduce project times, while 40% said that it could improve health and safety, and 38% said it could relieve workers from tedious tasks and duties.
  • Of those surveyed, 62% of Canadian construction businesses intend to invest in robotics. 26% are unsure, while 13% have no intention of investing in robotics products or upgrading their installed base.
  • The most pressing challenge facing the Canadian construction industry is recruiting skilled staff, which was cited by 49% of those surveyed.
  • 31% of Canadian construction businesses suggested that a lack of understanding of how robots could help their business was one of the main reasons that they had not chosen to invest in them.
  • 52% of respondents were not aware of how robotics and automation could be used as a solution for the construction industry.
Italy Overview
  • Italy has a relatively mature robotics market. 62% of respondents report that they use robotics to reduce project times, while 40% said that improving health and safety was a major benefit.
  • 86% of Italian construction companies intend to invest in robots at some point in the future, with 42% planning to do within the next 2 years.
  • The biggest challenge facing Italian construction businesses is reducing waste, which was cited by 54% of those surveyed. Health and safety, and recruiting skilled staff were both next on 41%.
  • Those who have not invested in robotics say that a lack of belief that their business is suited to robotics is the main reason why. This view was shared by 40% of respondents.
  • Awareness of robotics and automation is relatively high, with 83% reporting that they were aware of the potential benefits for the construction industry.
Switzerland Overview
  • The highest of any country surveyed. The reported benefits of robotics and automation technologies were varied, including improved health and safety and ensuring consistent quality (43%), widened possibilities for building design and reduced wastage (42%), and relieving workers from tedious tasks, and improved worker productivity and profit margins (40%).
  • 97% of Swiss construction businesses report that they will continue to invest in robotics, with 89% intending to do so within the next 10 years.
  • Major challenges facing the Swiss construction industry include ensuring quality and consistency (53%), satisfying customer demands for choice (47%), and finishing projects to deadlines (47%).
  • Of those who have not invested in robotics at any point, the main reason given was a belief that robots are too difficult to use. This was a view shared by 52% of those surveyed, while 48% reported a lack of in-house experience in working with robots.
  • 87% said they were aware of how robotics and automation could be a solution for the construction industry.
China Overview
  • 94% of businesses intend to invest more in robotics, with 76% indicating that they intend to do so within the next 10 years. Only 1 of the 200 respondents said that they had no intention of investing in robots whatsoever, while 6% were unsure.
  • The number one challenge by some distance in the Chinese construction industry is health and safety (63%). Other priorities included quality and consistency (53%) and recruiting skilled staff (44%).
  • Where companies have not invested in robotics, they indicate that this is primarily due to cost (57%). Other concerns include a lack of in-house experience (44%), and uncertainty as to whether robots can help the business (41%).
  • 71% of those surveyed reported that they were familiar with how robotics and automation can help their business.
France Overview
  • The main benefits being reduced project times (49%) and improved health and safety (43%).
  • 66% of those surveyed say that they intend to invest in robotics within the next 10 years, while 10% indicated that they have no intention of investing in robotics at all.
  • The main challenges facing the French construction industry include health & safety (43%), and reducing waste (41%).
  • Of those who have not invested in robotics at all, the reason given by the most people was a lack of belief that their business was suitable for robot implementation. This view was shared by 27% of respondents, while 26% claimed that their employees and customers would prefer to work with people.
  • A slim majority of French construction companies say that they are aware of the benefits of robotics and automation, with 51% saying this.
Germany Overview
  • By far the most commonly cited reason for using them is to remove workers from unsafe tasks, an opinion shared by 62% of respondents. 32% said that it helped to reduce project times.
  • Of those surveyed, 90% said that they would invest in or increase their use of robotics at some point. 40% said this would come within the next 10 years, yet 50% said this would happen in more than 10 years’ time, or did not have a timeframe.
  • By far the biggest perceived challenge for the German construction industry is finding and recruiting skilled workers, which was cited by 61% of respondents.
  • Of those who have not invested in robotics, 33% said that this was because robots were too expensive, while 25% said that they did not consider their business to be compatible with robots. A further 25% said that their employees and customers prefer to work with people.
  • Survey responses indicated that 83% of German construction businesses are aware of how robotics and automation could provide solutions for the industry.
Sweden Overview
  • Reduced project times cited as the main benefit (52%), along with improved safety (42%).
  • Among the businesses surveyed, 90% said they were planning to invest in robotics at some point in the future, with 78% saying this would come within the next 10 years.
  • The Swedish construction industry faces a range of challenges, with 46% saying that quality and consistency is an issue, while 44% point to health and safety. 43% identified reducing waste as a major challenge.
  • Of those who have not invested in robotics, businesses identified a lack of belief that robots are compatible with their business (38%) and a perception that robots are too expensive (38%) as the main reasons for this.
  • Across the Swedish construction industry 82% of businesses say that they are aware of how robotics and automation could provide a solution.
Austria Overview
  • The main benefits being reduced project times (cited by 57%) and helping to tackle the skills shortage (35%).
  • Although 58% of businesses say they intend to invest or continue investing in robots within the next 10 years, 21% are unsure, while 10% have no intention of investing at all.
  • By far the biggest challenge facing the Austrian construction industry is recruitment of skilled staff, cited by 52%.
  • The most common issues preventing Austrian businesses from investing in robotics were a lack of in-house experience (49%) and being unsure of where to start with choosing and implementing robotic technologies (40%).
  • 64% of respondents said that they are aware of how robotics and automation could be a solution for the Austrian construction industry.