Changing the image of the construction industry? Youth with the new system May 5 at 22:18

"The era of mass turnover is sure to come"

is a phrase we have heard many times in the construction industry lately.

Behind this is the rapid aging of the population.

The number of young people is decreasing.

How can we get the younger generation to jump into the construction industry?

We covered the efforts of a major construction machinery manufacturer to break through the status quo with "the latest technology" and "ingenuity".
(Economic Affairs Department Reporter: Airi Enoshima)

It's like a game world!

On this day, I visited a company in Ehime Prefecture.

Brand new cockpits, like the cockpits of airplanes and spaceships, had a big presence.

Seven panels arranged to cover the line of sight.

The screen showed a real-time view of the site about 7 kilometers away, and the heavy machinery was operated remotely.

Komatsu, a major construction machinery manufacturer, has been developing this system together with its subsidiary IT companies, and is on the verge of practical use.

With 800G communication speed and clear images, it is said that it can be operated as if you were actually on heavy machinery.

We have been working on the development of remote control technology for more than 30 years, and the culmination of that technology is this cockpit-type system.

This company in Ehime Prefecture, a customer, also participated in the project launched during the development, and reflected the opinions of the field such as the feeling of operation.

The reason why the design was deliberately designed to look like the near future was the aim of companies suffering from labor shortages.

Taka Okada, Executive Vice President
, "In our industry, how much heavy machinery moves is directly linked to sales, but we have been suffering from labor shortages for many years, and we felt that there was a limit to our efforts just by continuing our own efforts. Under such circumstances, I told them that I wanted to make a design like this one so that as many people as possible would be interested."

"By increasing the number of young people who wanted to do this kind of work, I wanted to expand the scope of employment. It's not hot or cold, and you don't need a helmet. It will dispel the image of the construction industry so far, and I hope it will lead to employment for the industry as a whole."

The aim was to dispel the image of being "tough" and "dirty" and to appeal to the new appeal of being able to operate heavy machinery in a clean office.

Construction machinery manufacturers are also developing control machines that are like game controllers.

You don't even need to learn skilled skills!

It has been considered common sense to acquire skilled skills in the operation of heavy machinery based on many years of experience.

This was also a reason for the younger generation to shy away from it.

The cockpit-type remote control system is also equipped with guidance functions that facilitate complex operations, such as warning when sensors mounted on heavy machinery detect excessive digging of the ground, and displaying the angle of the slope and the distance of the excavator cutting edge.

By supporting humans in the system, the aim is to enable young people to master skilled skills.

"This is my second year as an operator operating heavy machinery, and when I get on heavy machinery, I can see the invisible rear with the camera, and there is a guidance function, so I can operate it with peace of mind. Construction sites are worried about heat stroke in the summer, but with this system, we can operate it in the cool environment of the office."

I also thought that it might be easier for young people to learn from machines like a game than to ask veteran seniors to teach them technology.

If this continues, "it will be profitable and out of business"

Behind the serious labor shortage in the construction industry is the rapid aging of the population.

Let's take a look at the latest data compiled by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

Currently, there are 479.10 million people working in the construction industry, which is 24,25 fewer than 206 years ago and <>.<> million fewer than <> years ago.

Looking at the age structure of workers, 35.9% are 55 years old or older, which is higher than in other industries, while the younger generation under 29 years old is small, and the population is aging.

In addition, in one year 2022, the number of people aged 1 and over in the construction industry increased by 55,1, while the number of people aged 29 and under decreased by 2,<>.

The generational change is not going smoothly, and those involved are increasingly concerned that there is no time to spare.

Tomohiro Nakagawa, Chief Engineer
, Function/Solution Group, Komatsu Product Planning Office: "We hear from customers who introduce construction machinery, but in extreme cases, there are people who are worried that the business will go out of business in the black or that it will not be able to survive if it continues as it is. I think it's important to reduce the number of human involvement and bring in the younger generation."

Next is autonomous driving Rule-making is an issue

The manufacturer is also embarking on development into the future.

It is an autonomous driving system.

They believe that remote control systems alone cannot keep up with the speed of labor shortages.

In terms of technology, it is steadily evolving toward practical use, but there are still many other issues.

This is due to the delay in the development of laws and rules.

For example, an operator who operates a hydraulic excavator of heavy machinery is required to acquire qualifications through training depending on the purpose of use and the size of the machine.

This company in Ehime Prefecture, which is promoting the introduction of a remote control system, has a policy of having qualified employees take charge of the operation in the same way as operators who actually operate heavy machinery, but legislation has not been developed on whether qualifications are required for remote control and autonomous driving.

In addition, the creation of operational rules is also an issue for the future.

Typically, a single worksite has several pieces of heavy equipment from several manufacturers in operation.

In particular, the major construction machinery manufacturer that developed the product believes that it will be necessary to create common rules to ensure safety.

Tomohiro Nakagawa, Chief Engineer
, Function/Solution Group, Komatsu Product Planning Office: "Construction machinery is just a tool. It's the same as a scoop. I think it is necessary not only to DX machines, but also to digitize and DX the environment surrounding the work site itself. To that end, we must promote rule-making from the perspective of safety. While preparing the system, including the development of legislation, I think that after actually having customers use it, receiving feedback, and organizing it, mass production will be visible."

The construction site of the future envisioned by this manufacturer is a site where AI-based systems have been introduced that collect and analyze all kinds of information, such as the movement of dump trucks and the condition of surrounding roads, in addition to remote control and autonomous driving technologies.

Our subsidiary IT company has already developed and introduced a technology method called a digital twin that reproduces real information digitally while repeating simulations, and a system that can efficiently manage on-site work through the use of AI.

By combining various cutting-edge technologies, we hope to solve not only labor shortages, but also all issues at construction sites, such as safety and longer construction periods.

After the interview

The development of AI and other technologies is advancing exponentially, and efficiency is improving in all industries.

However, it is also true that in the construction industry, where the working environment and handling are diverse, the hurdles to introducing technologies such as automation and remote control are higher.

In addition to a sense of crisis about the labor shortage, many people involved in development expressed positive voices, such as "We will not slow down the speed of development" and "We want to make unmanned heavy machinery commonplace."

There is a risk that a serious labor shortage in the construction industry will have a significant impact on our lives and economic activities, such as infrastructure development and disaster recovery work.

I felt a strong sense of mission that I had to do now before it was too late.

Economic Department Reporter
Enoshima joined the Hiroshima Bureau
in 2017 and is now a member