The Robots are Coming: Automation in Construction

The Robots are Coming: Automation in Construction
May 8, 2018 admin

From construction finance through design and construction to sales, automation is already happening in the development industry.  Indeed, a recent McKinsey Global Institute report suggests that approximately 60% of all jobs have at least 30% of their activities automatable. Below, we take a quick look at the benefits and roadblocks to further automation throughout the development life cycle.


The finance industry is no stranger to automation.  Over the past decade, daily news has regularly reported staffing reductions in financial institutions due to automation.  Along with the increased number of non-bank and peer-to-peer finance technologies, this automation has delivered benefits to the development industry, including reducing the time between applying for finance and starting on site.

However, the Queensland Government has recently implemented changes to payment security laws.  From 1 March 2018, projects tendered by the Queensland Government will require a set of three bank accounts for each building and construction project valued between $1 million and $10 million (including GST) to ensure the security of contractor payments. Following successful implementation on government projects, this model is set to apply to private sector projects valued from $1 million from 1 March 2019.

These changes will undo years of automation and increase the workload of both banks and construction companies. In time, technology will engineer a solution to the manual handling this change will impose and reduce costs but, in the short term, there is concern that these costs will be passed down to developers.


The concept of computer automated design (CAD) first appeared in 1963, when the IBM Journal of Research and Development published a CAD computer program. Over the last 55 years, this technology has been embraced by many design professionals, particularly in construction design.

Programs such as AutoCAD and DesignCAD include industry-specific features and libraries to provide a level of automation for all areas of design, from architectural to mechanical and electrical.

In addition to standard industry automation, Niclin Group is currently providing our clients with several benefits of advanced design technology.


3D printed buildings, robot bricklayers, self-driving excavators and graders; the future of automation in construction is imminent.  Indeed, many Australian mining companies are already using self-driving technology to operate driverless heavy equipment to perform excavation, grading and site work.  Manufacturers in this space are investing heavily in research and development to perfect the technology and expand their market into other areas of construction.


According to Nigel Dalton, chief inventor at the REA Group, by 2020, potential property purchasers will be able to visit a sales office to view various properties through a virtual reality headset.  After choosing which properties to inspect physically, the purchasers will be driven to the property in an automated, self-driving car where they will be greeted by a real estate robot or hologram.

While this level of automation and robotics feels a bit Jetsons, 3D renders and flythrough videos are already providing a type of virtual reality inspection, even before construction commences.  Check out our LinkedIn for some of the 3D models and flythrough videos we have developed for our clients.


While occupations with higher wages and skill requirements have lower automation potential, a significant amount of variation underlies the averages. All professions, regardless of skill level, have some technical automation potential, including CEOs and Development Managers. McKinsey estimates approximately 25% of CEO and Development Managers’ work could potentially be automated, primarily with tasks such as analysing reports and data to inform decisions, reviewing status reports and staff programming.


Automation will not happen overnight.  According to McKinsey, five key factors will influence the pace and extent of adoption: technical feasibility, the cost of developing and deploying solutions, labour market dynamics, economic benefits, and regulatory and social acceptance.

Taking these factors into account, McKinsey estimates it will take decades for automation’s effect on current work activities to be fully realised. While the impact of automation might be slow at a macro level, they could be quite fast at a micro level.  Individuals whose activities are automated or a company whose industry is disrupted by competitors using automation may feel the pace of change is extreme.  And, as you can see, the development industry is far from immune.