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Autonomy Unearths Layers of Sustainable Benefits Within Construction

Autonomous advancements offer numerous sustainability benefits for the construction industry. Trimble Autonomy asked Dietmar Grimm, Trimble VP of corporate strategy and sustainability solutions, to field some common questions about how these capabilities relate to sustainability, which has become a priority initiative for just about any industry. This is part 2 of our discussion.

TA: What are the more notable sustainability benefits of autonomous machines within construction? 

DG: There are multiple layers of autonomous sustainability that can benefit both the environment and profits. Overall, they share some overlap with agriculture as outlined in Part 1 of this blog — like increased efficiency, productivity and accuracy, less reliance on a depleted pool of qualified labor, and less time and money spent on rework. For example, minimizing overlap from compacting or grading reduces the total number of passes, so work is done faster, saving fuel, wear and tear on machines, etc. It also ensures the proper number of passes is done, no less — no more. And rather than operators struggling with vibration that makes steering straight a challenge, the machine does the work, allowing operators of any skill level to work longer with less fatigue. All this puts OEMs in a position of enhancing customers’ profits. 

TA: Is there anything else that is different about how machines are operated by people vs autonomously that adds to sustainability? 

DG: Yes – after spending decades and thousands of hours on worksites, we’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for operators to continue operating a machine even after the task is finished. Beyond wasting fuel and time, this can also lead to over-compaction of surfaces and costly tear-out and rework. Autonomy neutralizes this, while also removing guesswork and driver deviations such as revving and quick acceleration. This maximizes tire life and reduces wear and tear on machinery itself — reducing maintenance costs — and ultimately extending the life of valuable machines. Ultimately, reduced fuel and longer machine life reduce greenhouse gasses. (Read about Trimble’s company-wide commitment to ambitious climate goals and a net zero future here.)

TA: What other waste is reduced or neutralized by autonomous machinery?

DG: Autonomous technology can reduce idle time, break times that entail stopping and restarting machines, and similar scenarios that burn excess fuel and increase greenhouse emissions. Autonomous machinery can work faster at repetitive tasks, and can work much longer without needing breaks. All these productivity enhancers boost fiscal sustainability, helping to ensure jobs get done on time, without costly delays and missed deadlines that might result in fees. Programmable equipment is more exact, faster, and reduces reliance on a diminished labor force, thereby reducing costs. All of which help strengthen your brand, and your customers’ reputation as a competent partner. 

TA: How does digital twinning or 3D modeling play into sustainability?

DG: This complements the overall autonomy picture by reducing costs, optimizing resources and materials, reducing operational energy needs of buildings, reducing greenhouse gasses and more — to the tune of some $288B in cost savings for the construction industry. It allows for real-time adjustments, simulates performance, predicts potential maintenance needs, lets stakeholders to visualize status in real time, and improves collaboration across the ecosystem. This empowers construction crews to work more efficiently, reducing waste and time. According to the Capgemini Research Institute, 60% of organizations across major sectors are leaning on digital twins to improve operational performance and fulfill their sustainability agenda. 

TA: How does enhanced safety factor into sustainability?

DG: People are a huge part of overall sustainability – happy and successful employees make for a more sustainable enterprise long-term. Not only is it right for people, but it is more fiscally sustainable to cut down on injuries that result from operators entering and exiting equipment, a common scenario where worksite injuries occur. Autonomous machines can work for extended periods, as operators sit in the cab performing other essential functions — which means fewer fatigued workers getting in and out, risking costly and potentially fatal falls. First and foremost, this saves lives and minimizes the costs of work-related injuries to the business including minimizing injury-related downtime.

TA: Historically, construction has been reluctant to embrace automation. Will that change?

DG: It's changing already, and adoption will only increase as more OEMs and contractors realize the benefit. Considering the US Chamber’s report that 56% of US contractors are struggling to meet project deadlines as a result of skilled labor shortages, it’s becoming a matter of necessity. The industry has historically been reluctant to let go of labor-intensive methods for work and recording data, leading to excess use of materials and natural resources. But now the fundamental economics are changing, making it an industry that stands to benefit greatly from sustainable autonomous advancements. 

Sustainability gains complement and even add to the numerous benefits that await the construction industry as it enters into the fourth industrial revolution. Trimble can empower you to put your customers in a position of control like never before by helping them achieve their environmental initiatives while reaching new levels of profitability. We’ll help take you where you want to go, and we’ll do it on your terms.