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Contractor builds dam in Japan with robots

Confronted with Japan’s chronic construction labour shortage, contractor Obayashi is building a dam almost entirely with robots.

Eighty-four metres in height, and 334m in length, the concrete dam is being constructed in Mie Prefecture, on the southeast coast of Japan’s main island, reports Nikkei Asian Review.

Remote-controlled tower cranes pour concrete into 15-meter-square partitions to build the dam up in layers.

Robots polish the surfaces of each slab to create a watertight union with subsequent ones, and robots raise the formwork as the structure gains height, the contractor told the newspaper.

Construction is scheduled for completion in March 2023.

Because it is a pilot robotics project, human workers are on hand to monitor and guide some of the machinery.

So, despite the advances in automation, productivity has increased only by about 10% so far.

But Obayashi said it is learning from the experience in order to further reduce the necessary manpower.

“Eventually, we may be able to cut building time by 30%,” Akira Naito, head of Obayashi’s dam technology unit, told the Review.

Japan’s construction industry is ageing quickly, with 35% of all workers now 55 or older, the newspaper said, citing the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors.

Companies are in a hurry to develop automated machinery informed by older workers’ knowledge before they retire.

Contractors also face stricter rules on overtime from 2024.


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