Survey on automation of the building construction and building products industry

Pentti Vähä, Tapio Heikkilä, Pekka Kilpeläinen, Markku Järviluoma, Rauno Heikkilä

    Research output: Book/ReportReport


    A commonly held view is that the construction industry is labour-intensive, project-based, and slow to adopt emerging technologies compared to other "project shop" manufacturing industries [Product-Process Matrix]. A construction site can be regarded as a "project shop", since tools and manufacturing equipment are brought on-site, whereas component prefabrication is a conventional shop, line or cell-structured. There have not been any dramatic changes in construction methods in the last 40 years, although some methods have been developing. The construction Industry is also considered to be a conservative innovator and late adopter of new technology. Therefore, construction is often considered a somewhat old-fashioned industry. However, in the design phase, methods such as Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Finite Element Method (FEM) are commonly adopted. Also Building Information Model (BIM) is increasingly applied in the design and engineering phase. The construction life cycle includes 1) Requirements identification, 2) Project planning, 3) Design and engineering 4) Construction, 5) Operations and maintenance, and 6) Decommissioning. The operation and maintenance phase is the longest period during the life cycle of a building. Building Information Model (BIM), a digital representation of the physical and functional characteristics of a facility, covers e.g. geometry, spatial relationships, light analysis, geographic information, quantities and properties of building components with manufacturers' details. The model elements, representing the physical building parts, are digitally linked to information relevant to the model users, such as architects, engineers, contractors and owners. BIM can be used to demonstrate the entire building life cycle, including processes of construction and facility operations, and finally to take the advantage of its information in the demolition. From the life cycle point of view, BIM enables all stakeholders to share data throughout the entire life cycle of the building. Currently, BIM is widely applied in the design and engineering phase, but there have been very few efforts to explore the real-time integration of BIM to the site and task conditions, and the interaction of BIM with the field crew. For field workers, it is important to gain access to the most current model so as to be aware of possible changes made to the document [BIM, Beyond Clash Detection 2011] and [Wang et al. 2012]. Industrialization of building construction started in Japan around 1960, with the advent of prefabricated houses made of steel and wood. High-rise building construction has become common since 1968, and automation and industrialization of building construction have been pursued since then [Shinko 2007]. Since 1988, major Japanese general contractors have investigated the potential complementation of integrated robotic and automated building construction systems [Bock et al. 2011]. Today, many construction operations have incorporated automated equipment, means, and methods into their regular practices. R&D activities are centring more on ICT technologies, including on-site sensory data acquisition and processing, the human operator's field safety and security and computer-based process control and monitoring as well as automated inventory and shop keeping, among many others. Although adaption of automation in the building construction sector has been slow, the civil engineering sector has developed and adopted several automated systems for industrial use. For example, Infra Information Modelling is currently under active research and development, especially in Northern Countries. Automation has had a notable impact in a wide range of industries in addition to manufacturing. The principles of industrial automation are applicable to the construction sector, both to building construction, civil engineering (roadways, dams, bridges, etc.), and to the prefabrication of construction components. It is the application of electronic, mechanical and computer based systems so as to operate and control construction production.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationEspoo
    PublisherVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
    Number of pages86
    ISBN (Electronic)978-951-38-8032-3
    ISBN (Print)978-951-38-8031-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2013
    MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

    Publication series

    SeriesVTT Technology


    • construction automation
    • automated data acquisition
    • construction robotics
    • construction logistics
    • prefabrication


    Dive into the research topics of 'Survey on automation of the building construction and building products industry'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this