How drones are helping Japan overcome a labor shortage

By Catherine
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By Catherine Bolgar

The “i-Constructioninitiative was unveiled last December by Keiichi Ishii, Japan’s minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism. Its goal is a 50% increase in construction workers’ productivity. Japan’s labor force is projected to decline to 56.8 million in 2030 due to a shrinking population, down 14% from 2010, and automation is seen as a strong solution.

The program mostly involves developing standards for integrating information and communications technology (ICT) with the construction industry. The new technology is being developed by the private sector.

Komatsu Ltd., a large Japanese construction company, is leading the charge. With experienced bulldozer pilots in scarce supply, Komatsu three years ago started looking for ways to make the job easier.

“Bulldozers move earth to get the foundation ready,” explains Christian Sanz, founder and chief executive of Skycatch Inc., a San Francisco company that uses its own specialized drones to create extremely accurate land surveys, which is working with Komatsu. “To do that, you need a really skilled pilot to cut the earth.”

With real-time, digitized 3D data about the volume and shape of the dirt, the bulldozers can be highly automated.

What is removed from the equation is how experienced the pilot has to be,” Mr. Sanz says.

Completely robotic trucks and equipment already are at work in Australian mines, but for safety reasons, the Komatsu bulldozers continue to have a person in the cabin. Automation allows less-experienced pilots to execute complex maneuvers and experienced pilots to do them even faster, vastly improving productivity.

Skycatch drones work in two ways. First, drones gather data to generate surveys of the site. A traditional survey done by humans takes about two weeks to complete on a typical construction site. Skycatch can do the same work in four to six hours, and the resulting data can be communicated to automate bulldozers.

In addition, objects, such as trees or construction equipment, on the job site have to be removed before human surveys—a labor-intensive process that can take another week. Software can remove such objects for digitized surveys.

The survey process usually is done twice, once before work starts and then a refresh after the machines have started cutting the earth. That means the drones can speed up work by over a month.

Skycatch’s drones and technology can deliver surveys that are accurate to between one and three centimeters. “You need accuracy within centimeters in order to automate,” Mr. Sanz says. “Our margin of error is almost zero. Human surveys are extremely accurate and reliable, but they take two weeks on average.”

Surveyors can map a few hundred points per day, whereas Skycatch drones can survey a few million points in about 15 minutes.

While Skycatch makes its own surveying drones, it also can use its software to enable other drones that have the ability to collect imagery with GPS and create survey images, but at accuracies of 10 centimeters to 15 centimeters.

Komatsu compares the digital surveys with engineers’ completion drawings, which also have been converted to 3D, in order to calculate the precise area and volume of earth to be moved. Then, the data is used to run simulations of each stage of work.

Komatsu also uses fleets of Skycatch drones to gather information during digging, in order to guide the bulldozers, in what Komatsu calls Smart Construction. Conventional bulldozer pilots follow small wooden stakes planted in the ground, but Smart Construction bulldozers don’t need stakes.

The future of drones in construction isn’t in building, but in gathering data to give machines eyes, Mr. Sanz says. “Drones will never pick up something as heavy as a boulder and move it somewhere,” he says. “The visibility and accuracy of automated machines moving things is what drones will be able to create.”

The construction industry tends to be conservative, he says. “People are married to the old way of doing things. But having i-Construction become the standard in Japan is going to force every company to move in that direction.”

Japan’s i-Construction initiative is a good model for other countries, he says, by differentiating regulation of drones for commercial use—such as construction—from consumer use. The regulations will set requirements for accuracy, cameras on drones, equipment validation and quality of data to ensure quality and safety.

As for the future of drones in construction, the sky’s the limit. “Komatsu has a vision for 10 to 20 years that will blow people’s minds,” Mr. Sanz says.

 

Catherine Bolgar is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal Europe, now working as a freelance writer and editor with WSJ. Custom Studios in EMEA. For more from Catherine Bolgar, along with other industry experts, join the Future Realities discussion on LinkedIn.

Photos courtesy of iStock

Manufacturing Goes on The Cloud

By Tony
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Cloud

The Cloud is Everywhere

Or at least it seems like the cloud is everywhere today. More and more you see service offerings to back-up your system data or store your files. The storage space is nice to have, but I like the cloud for the data organization aspects. Cloud storage lets you organize things like your music for example, according to many different criteria. So instead of just listing it alphabetically like I would on my hard drive, I can organize it according to the genre of music, or the year it was released. I can organize it according to whether I listen to it while I am driving or while I am working out. It also lets me grant access to it according to who may listen to it, so if it is a suitable song, I can grant access to my son or daughter so they may listen to it.  As my library of photos and music grows, as well as my family, I can add more space to the cloud to scale it to my usage.

Manufacturing on the Cloud Makes Big Data Easy to Manage

Manufacturing applications on the 3DEXPERIENCE® platform work much in the same way.  Of course the cloud offers a great repository to keep all of your manufacturing data and applications. But even better, it offers a great place to manage and access all of your project data.  Whether it is a document, a process plan, a workcell simulation, or a manufacturing resource, it can be easily accessible on the cloud from the 3DEXPERIENCE platform. 3DEXPERIENCE on the cloud makes large amounts of data manageable and makes it easily searchable by different criteria.

Manufacturing on the Cloud Offers Scalable Resources

Manufacturing on the cloud is scalable. Projects ramp up and down as do workloads. Companies have a tough time managing hardware and software requirements that are constantly in a state of flux. Once hardware is purchased, it is on the books until it’s lifecycle is over. On the cloud, software and hardware requirements are completely scalable. So as projects and workloads ramp up and down, so does the system utilization and software licensing. This means that the capital investment made for hardware and software is transferred to a scalable system. Over the years as the company grows, the value of the 3DEXPERIENCE on the cloud grows exponentially.

Manufacturing on the Cloud helps companies to be more competitive

The 3DEXPERIENCE platform on the cloud gives smaller companies many advantages. It provides scalable resources and technology at a lower cost. By hosting hardware and software on the cloud, it also allows for reduced on-site support from IT specialists, as well as reduced infrastructure. Since it lets IT offload the responsibility, your team can focus on new projects and new products. In other words, they can focus on growing your business.

There are many possibilities when manufacturing goes on the cloud. What do you think? To learn more, join in the conversation or visit our blog “60 Seconds to Experience”.

General Cloud Computing Acceptance Not So Clear

By Kate
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The other night my father-in-law announced he’d ordered a new laptop computer.  Only after 3 years, his broke.  What followed was a conversation I suspect may sound familiar to you: 

“You know Michel, in the future you won’t need to buy a new computer—just a new screen.  The Cloud will be your computer.” 

“Pfff!  I hope not!  I would never trust my data to the Cloud.”

“Um, Michel, you trust your money to a bank, right?”

“Yes, but that’s because I have to.”

“You’re already using the Cloud for some things, whether you’re aware or not.”

“Perhaps, but I have several external hard drives and I use them to back up my data every few weeks.”

“Michel, is your data so much more precious than your money that you’d prefer to keep it ‘under your mattress?’”

Perhaps I’m surrounded by too much Cloud talk at work.  I figured the General Public would be fairly accepting of the direction the Cloud is taking.  But my father-in-law is an engineer and ex technical director of a pretty technical company, so I wasn’t expecting his reaction. 

Do we care? 

I find it curious that public acceptance does not correlate with the rate of progress for things Cloud-related, i.e. Saleforce’s database.com announcement, legislative advancements around country-specific owned/controlled Clouds, etc.

If Human 1.0 theories hold true, I’d suspect this is because the hunters and gathers in us like to feel that we tangibly own and control stuff.  But have no fear; I’m sure we’ll find a creative way to feel psychologically and emotionally good about our data dominion.  And if we can’t?  Well then we’ll displace our control needs to another domain. 

What’s your take?  And what do your in-laws think about this Cloud business?  

Happy New Year to you! 

Best,

Kate