Japan’s construction companies are facing a major labor shortage that has caused them to turn to technology – artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things – to increase productivity. According to the Japan Federation of Construction Contractors, there will be 1.28 million fewer construction workers by fiscal 2025 compared with fiscal 2014.
The labor shortage is due in part to the rapid retirement of skilled construction personnel and a dearth of younger people to replace them, as well as low productivity and sharply rising wages. The number of construction personnel has dropped by one-quarter in the past 15 years to around 5 million since the massive 2011 Tohoku earthquake, according to the Japanese government.
With the ongoing Tohoku rebuilding efforts and preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, demand continues to be high in the industry. Hence, the Japanese government has set forth a goal to increase construction productivity by over 20% by 2025. National strategies, including the “i-Construction” plan, call for improved use of information technology, AI, and robotics.
Komatsu, the world’s second-biggest earth-moving equipment maker by revenue, has already made significant moves in deploying robotics and other technology in construction. The company recently announced that it would use AI in its advisory service, which is designed to help building supervisors and contractors work more efficiently.
In 2016, Komatsu initiated Smart Construction, a system that uses drones to conduct 3D site surveys, combining that information with blueprints, then downloading that data into the equipment via satellite communication. And in 2013, the company introduced intelligent and connected bulldozers and excavators with automated blades and buckets. Combined with intelligent earth movers, the system now guides operators – even those with little experience – in their digging, filling, and grading to increase efficiency and reduce the amount of expensive skilled labor required.
Toru Ohashi, president and CEO of Komatsu, indicated that the “smart construction” solution has already been successfully implemented at more than 3,000 construction sites. He said, “many people accumulate data, various applications will appear; it will be a business opportunity even outside the construction industry.”
Rising to the challenge
Komatsu and the companies that have supported Komatsu’s previous IoT initiatives to connect construction sites – NTT DOCOMO, SAP, and OPTiM – have a shared vision for improving construction productivity and safety through technology. These four companies have taken on the challenge of designing and operating a new platform that can become the IoT foundation for all construction production processes.
The companies’ recently announced LANDLOG platform will gather information regarding the physical elements of all construction production processes in order to discover efficiencies and increase productivity. LANDLOG is an IoT platform for construction companies that will be utilized in processes related to construction, from surveying to design to enforcement and maintenance. Information on terrain obtained by drone and camera, trajectory of moving vehicles, amount of loading load, and work performance information from construction machines are accumulated in the “land log” via API.
Given adoption among a large population of users that support construction sites, the platform will accelerate progress toward safer, more-productive construction sites.