A Distributed Automated Cutting System (DACS) project, led by Eurovia UK, in partnership with Loop Technology and The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), will deliver a ground-breaking robotic paving slab cutting process. DACS will produce bespoke slabs; made to measure, in a controlled environment to minimise on-site disruption and accelerate Britain’s urban regeneration.
The project was successful in gaining grant funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through their ‘Robotics for a more resilient future’ competition. The partnership is now blending their skills and expertise to deliver the project which will conclude in April 2022. The process of developing and testing automated cutting robots can be complicated, with high initial investment and resource needed. The £500k project, backed by UKRI, will remove these barriers. As a spokesperson for UKRI noted:
“As we look to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the opportunities for robotics have never been greater. With net zero ambitions underlying industrial plans in every sector, and the chance to rebuild new industries after the pandemic, robotics, AI and automation are vital ingredients going forwards. The UK is a world leader in the field of robotics thanks to projects like DACS and we look forward to seeing the impact this innovation has on the construction sector.”
The project is very much aligned with the aspiration of the government’s Construction 2025 Industrial Strategy to improve project outcomes in terms of cost, time, safety and sustainability. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) incorporating metrology, robotics, artificial intelligence and off-site processing will be used to reduce disruption from paving operations, whilst improving productivity, safety and environmental impact.
The growing demand for pedestrianisation, to reduce the impact on air quality and climate change, is resulting in local councils undertaking more infrastructure projects that involve laying new paved areas. These can take from several months to a few years, sometimes causing widespread disruption including road closures and noise for residents and the public.
Paving slab cutting; to fit into gaps or around street furniture, is one of the bottlenecks of paving operations. On-site cutting can create safety risks to the workforce and disruption and environmental nuisance to the general public. DACS will modernise paving operations to deliver a safer and environmentally friendly process along with a 40-50% improvement in productivity. For a typical year-long scheme this could cut disruption by almost a month.
Other key benefits include:
- Cutting can be moved off-site to eliminate on-site noise, wastewater and carcinogenic silica dust and other hazards.
- Reducing the extent of road and footway closures where cutting would normally occur with ad-hoc fencing around a large safety radius.
- Improving worker safety by removing manual site cutting operations and exposure to noise and vibration.
- Reduced waste paving from 10% to 3% by optimising cutting patterns. For a typical contract this would save around 16 articulated lorry-loads worth of waste.
- Making best use of a limited pool of specialist, skilled paving teams.
DACS will take scan data from areas to be paved and automatically create robot cutting paths. Artificial intelligence will be employed to assess the available slabs and offcuts to choose the optimal piece to maximise material usage and minimise waste. Initial stages of the project will deliver a robot cell in a factory setting. This will be followed by the development of a compact and containerised system making DACS accessible anywhere. The technology developed by the consortium will work in a wide range of applications where paving slabs are cut and showcase the potential of robotics in the construction industry.
Phil Reid, Eurovia Contracting’s Digital Construction Manager, says;
“This partnership is literally breaking new ground to bring automation to our public spaces. Cutting paving slabs on site is a messy, noisy and timely process – both for local people and our own workforce. This partnership is bringing together expertise from the highways and construction sector, artificial intelligence and robotics to design out waste and risk and deliver a new process on the ground that reduces waste, noise, dust and the inconvenience associated with public realm improvements. We think that this project has the potential to revolutionise the way we deliver on site and cannot wait to deliver it for local Councils and local people.”