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Construction Automation, Robotics to See at CONEXPO

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CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 is dominated by equipment more than construction technology, but digital technology is becoming more and more central to construction equipment as new robotic equipment comes to market, and existing equipment classes harness automation from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and aftermarket suppliers.

Suppliers of GPS machine control products will be at the show in force, with the big three, Trimble (Booth #W41522), Leica (Booth #N12325) and Topcon (Booth #W43445), able to address multiple types of grade and compaction control for paving, compaction earthmoving and other heavy equipment use cases. 

Trimble, however, hinted that it may be launching a product that could be a fit for smaller and thriftier contracting operations than the customers they or their competitors would normally cater to. In a February 2023 statement, Trimble announced “a new purpose-built machine guidance solution designed to be versatile, portable and easy to use.”

This could come at an opportune time given some of the emerging competitors that will also be exhibiting.

Upstart Construction Machine Control Vendors

Unicontrol, ( Booth #W44331) Unicontrol has launched Unicontrol3D, a straightforward guide-on-the-side interactive tool to make excavation easier. In a March 2022 briefing with ForConstructionPros, Unicontrol Chief Commercial Officer Ehsanullah Ekhlas described how the company is offering a software-centric approach that makes using excavators, wheel loaders and backhoes more intuitive, putting technology in the hands of even the smallest contractor and potentially making rental equipment easier to use.

While dominant excavator technologies focus on automating operation of components including the arm, dipper arm, bucket cylinder and that swing gear that controls the turret—plus forward motion of the vehicle itself—Unicontrol is focused on improving operator effectiveness and efficiency, eliminating the need for site surveyors because the operator can see the project plan superimposed on represented on a screen in the cab.

Unicontrol3D enables companies or individual owner-operators to dig more effectively and collect productivity information for billing without plunking down the pile of money required for automation.

“We are searching for companies that may already be selling automation solutions from our competitors,” Unicontrol Director for U.S. and North America Rich Hilliker said. “These people are dealing with these products, know what they are doing and want something else to offer the market.”

Built Robotics (Booth # D1342) has been marketing its Exosystem, which equips mid-sized excavators from multiple OEMs for autonomous operation. It includes an all-weather enclosure, proximity radar, 360° cameras, GPS, and a liquid-cooled computer.

The company has a partnership with Sunstate Equipment to get automated excavators into the rental channel, but seems to have back-burnered the rental channel for more repetitive projects like trenching for solar farms as the Exoskeleton matures into more of a walk-up-and-use technology.

According to company officials, at CONEXO—CON/AGG 2023, Built Robotics will announce new products that according to company sources may or may not focus on the concrete industry. In January of 2023, they announced the acquisition of Roin Technologies and the IP behind its automated concrete trowel. In the intermediate term, Roin IP and expert tech leadership that came in the deal could help make the Exoskeleton products faster and more performant.

Other machine control vendors to visit include Kiwitron (Booth #S5130), Moog Construction (Booth #D2739), Stonex Machine Control (Booth # W44173) and Teleo (Booth #D3801). Quantum Land Design (Booth #W43207) meanwhile provides technology to convert 2D and 3D plans into 3D models that can be used by machine control solutions like those from Topcon, Trimble, Leica, Carlson and Hemisphere.

Check out the IRONPROS Construction Automation Explainer Video

One Trick Pony Construction Robotics

While some vendors focus on adding automation to commonly-used pieces of construction equipment, others have brought to market robots that automate specific tasks performed at volume.

Brokk (Booth #C20349) will exhibit its line of demolition and hydrodemolition robots, attachments and pedestal booms. 

Contractors involved with structural steel on infrastructure projects will want to visit Advanced Construction Robotics (Booth #N10723) to learn more about their TyBOT rebar tying robot and IronBOT. TyBOT is a gantry-mounted robot that can operate on a rail between 9.5 feet and 100 feet wide. It is powered by a Cummins Onan generator that can run continuously for 12 hours without refueling, using a 16.5 AWG poly coated single snap wire to complete up to 1,100 ties per hour. TyBOT requires a minimum bar chair height of one inch and can tie bars with intersections as small as 3-by-3 inches. It can accommodate up to #8 or #9 rebar, and while it has not been used on fiber reinforced rebar in the field, tests on this material have been successful according to the company. While TyBOT has proven reliable on projects, enabling smaller crews and faster completion, productivity gains could increase even more with the addition of IronBOT, which automates the arduous task of lifting and then placing up to a 5,000-pound load of transverse and longitudinal rebar.

Contractors and municipal entities that perform sewer pipe inspections can visit Pipe Trekker (Booth #D4108), which will launch a new generation of its mini pipe crawlers and tablet controller at CONEXPO-CON/AGG. Pipe Trekker’s onboard software records video and photos on a weatherproof handheld controller. For inspections that require more data, you can easily integrate with various software providers such as WinCan for coded reports, GIS mapping, and AI-enabled defect detection.

Learn More About HP Site Print robotic site layout with this IRONPROS Explainer Video

Building contractors can learn more about autonomous construction at the HP Site Print exhibit (Booth # N19809). The HP SitePrint can print lines and complex objects with repeatability, enabling markup of a floor slab to guide trades, eliminating manual layout and associated errors and scheduling problems.

One Solution to Rule Them All

The ability to automate individual pieces of equipment or performing robotic tasks is an important element of digital transformation in construction. But in some environments like paving, contech vendors are interlacing and coordinating the work of multiple pieces of equipment on a site including 3D pavers and automated rollers. In a 3D paving environment, an array of total stations typically lock onto receivers on 3D paving-equipped machines—pavers, rollers and milling machines—through a prism mounted on each machine. 3D paving controls on each machine contain a digital model of the job, enabling the equipment to deliver on the model automatically including slope, crossfall and even compaction density.

Broad project, site- and facility-wide automation systems are also coming to market. Visitors to CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 can stop at Eze System Inc. (Booth #N1178). The company’s ezeIO System enables a contractor to drive IoT insights for machines and sites including:

  • Equipment management
  • Pump control
  • Energy management
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Heating and drying
  • Interim offices

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