Photo supplied by Obayashi

News

Japanese dam built by robots

3 August 2020

Major Japanese contractor Obayashi is building a dam almost entirely with robots in response to the country’s chronic construction labour shortage. 

The concrete dam is 84m high and 334m wide and 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. Robots then 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. Thus, despite the advances in automation, productivity has only increased 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 workforce 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.