Demolition at a distance - Tony McLean on why he's investing in demolition robots

By Lindsay Gale05 August 2010

Tony McLean, managing director of demolition and enabling works specialists Armoury Group, explains why he is investing in demolition robots and why he thinks they will keep his company at the forefront of the industry.

The traditional image of demolition generally involves men with sledgehammers, wrecking balls, blow-downs and huge amounts of dust; these techniques we still use today, but times are changing.

The increasing requirement for sophisticated and precise demolition in difficult to access places has driven the growth in demolition robots.

Demolition robots have been around for more than 20 years and, such is the technological advancement in robotic design, they can now perform a multitude of tasks that not only increase efficiency and precision, but also minimise disruption to the working environment.

As you might expect Armoury Group offers a total demolition service, from blow-downs to underwater demolition and just about everything in-between; not all of it can be done by robots, but they have their place.

My robot

Our current fleet includes five Brokk robotic demolition machines, from a small 500 kg machine up to the largest at 4,000 kg. The versatile range of attachments offer the answers to any demolition question we can throw at our robots - the right tools for the right job.

It is easy to think of robots as programmed machines that get on with a task, without human interaction, but this is not the case with demolition. No two jobs are the same, so we have to think of these robots more as extensions of our highly skilled demolition operatives than stand alone machines capable of working without supervision.

Our operatives are learning new skills associated with robot demolition, allowing them to operate more safely, with less direct contact with the tools they are using and allowing them to increase productivity.

In fact, an initial trial using the Brokk 180 proved it was able to break down a 3 x 3 x 0.25 m brick wall in just 15 minutes, a quarter of the time it would take six to eight men with conventional tools.

The ability to deploy quickly and the potential high productivity of such machines is obviously an advantage when working in 'live' environments and especially for clients who demand short demolition times in order to minimise disruption to surrounding buildings and local communities.

Our demolition robots require a highly skilled operative to control the movement and operation of the machine, including 'driving' the robot into position via remote control.

This is a significant departure from the use of traditional tools as it eliminates an employee's exposure to hand/arm vibration (HAV).

Having a better vantage point and working with equipment that is easy to control means that the operator suffers less from fatigue and is therefore able to work faster, which results in greater productivity.

By robot

A key advantage of demolition robots is their ability to reach and work in confined, difficult to reach or dangerous spaces. Most recently we put the Brokk 90 to the test during the demolition of a former textile factory in Leicester.

Though the site had been derelict for more than a year, the corner flagstone of the structure remained historically relevant for its depiction of Cardinal Wolsey - first minister in the court of King Henry VIII.

We were able to remove the listed sandstone and ceramic-tile area by using the Brokk 90 fitted with a hydraulic 'nibbler'.

Its lightweight and compact design, along with its 245 degree rotating arm ensured that the robot was able to precisely nip away the brickwork, while our operative guided it from up to 40 yards away.

The UK government is looking to reduce carbon emissions by 23 million tonnes by 2050, with recycling more material from site high on the agenda.

The demolition industry has always been perceived as the poor cousin to the construction industry, but in the scramble for sustainability and green credentials, many of the its working practices are now being advocated by the construction industry.

The growing ability to demolish structures by robot has a key part to play in this process, ensuring material is carefully sorted and removed from site with minimal environmental impact and disruption.

Try robot

But what does the future hold? I am a strong advocate of robots and I am sure we will continue to see the technological advancement of demolition robots take giant strides.

I would urge everyone to try demolition robots - we are not quite at the stage where we tell them what to do and they go off and do it, sci-fi fashion, but I am sure the day is coming; the sooner you get on board, the easier the transition will be.

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