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How Robotics Will Affect Prefab Homes

Robots Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Andrey_Popov

During your work, you may have done some jobs at prefabricated—or prefab—houses. 

Prefab homes are certainly not new, but some companies that manufacture them have increasingly come to depend on advanced robotics to put the pieces together faster and with less dependence on human labor. 

This increased reliance on robotics in the prefabrication process will likely change how electrical contractors work in prefab homes. 

Labor Shortage

Building a home is typically not a fast task. It requires dozens of workers to collaborate and spend months or years at a single site. This approach is becoming less unfeasible, considering the ongoing labor shortage in the construction sector. However, according to a housing analyst quoted in a 2018 article, up to 20% of homes could be prefabricated within five years. 

Robots are helping propel that growth. Although prefabrication factories still hire people to work alongside robots, those employees require fewer skills, and they don't get paid as much as traditional construction workers. 

A recent report from the Associated General Contractors of America indicates 80% of construction companies have difficulty recruiting enough hourly craft workers. Those businesses do a variety of things to make up for the deficit. The efforts range from providing more in-house training to offering more worker bonuses. 

Robotics and prefabrication can also bridge this gap. One-fourth of firms surveyed in the report confirmed they rely on new technologies, including robots. Moreover, 23% of companies said they were focusing on doing things to improve job site performance, such as using more off-site prefab. 

Robots are less likely to make mistakes—such as the ones humans might near the end of a long shift. So, electrical contractors who work with prefabricated pieces robots build, such as when adding wiring, may find they're less likely to run into unforeseen challenges. The machines bring consistency. 

Inside the Electrical Contracting Sector

Beyond the prefabrication work done by high-tech robots that may constitute the preferred way to construct the homes of the future, some EC businesses offer prefab pieces. This method shortens the time necessary to complete jobs, which means ECs keep their clients happy, and they discover there's more time in their schedules to devote to complex tasks. 

According to an executive at one electrical contracting company that uses prefabricated components, the enterprise sees at least 15% in labor savings compared to assembling parts in the field. The ways electrical contractors use prefab parts can also benefit consumers. One of the main reasons why robots are so widely used in manufacturing today is because they cut the project time. 

Robots went through a substantial revolution over the years. It's common for many of today's models to have pneumatic arms operated in part by air compressors. If using a robot with these extremities at an automobile assembly plant, for example, components are put together with much greater speed and efficiency than humans could manage alone. 

Overall, the combination of robots and prefabrication could mean these houses are ready for inhabitants sooner than ever. If electrical contractors encounter prewired pieces at the site of a prefab home, they should have less work to do before people can move in. 

Robotics With 3D Printing

Even though prefabrication still only represents a small segment of the construction market, analysts expect it to grow. According to one report, the prefab market worth will reach $138.96 billion by 2022, up from $99.1 billion in 2016. Another reason why companies are getting on board with robots in prefabrication is because that method lends itself well to other technologies. 

One recent example involved a team from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. They came up with a technique for constructing a prefabricated bathroom in less than a day. The group believes their achievement could allow building prefabricated bathrooms that are 30% lighter and finished 30% faster than current methods. 

A robotic arm capable of a reach distance of 6 meters in diameter played a crucial role. It handled the 3D printing process when a concrete mixture was fed through a nozzle on the machine. Robots and prefabrication projects like this one may mean electrical contractors could work on structures made in nonconventional ways. 

Robotics and Prefabrication Causing Shifts

The changes mentioned here primarily mean that you, your colleagues and the companies that provide work must become comfortable with robots playing an integral part in the building process. 

Moreover, some electrical contracting businesses may provide prefabricated parts in-house that complement what robots construct, meaning electrical contractors may have to adjust their processes but should remain in demand within their industry.

About the Author

Kayla Matthews

Kayla Matthews is a technology writer whose work has appeared on VentureBeat, Metering & Smart Energy International, VICE and The Huffington Post. To read more posts by Kayla, you can visit her blog, Productivity Bytes.

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