The profile of autonomous driving has grown steadily over recent years as industries such as construction, mining and farming look for new ways to tackle inefficiencies and changing labor and work environments.
After decades of small incremental changes in processes and machinery, companies are gearing up for big innovative shifts that will change the way industries operate. By using autonomous vehicles, companies can complete projects and tasks quicker, safer and more cost-efficiently while also allowing humans to focus on skilled tasks. Though still in its early stages, several industries are looking at making autonomous driving a bigger part of how they operate.
Here’s a look at how and why the industry is changing and how continued innovation and collaboration will be key in normalizing autonomous driving in construction, mining, farming and more.
We know that autonomous vehicles are a rapidly growing trend and are an area of investment in industries such as construction, mining and farming. What some may not realize is that it’s been developed and tested over decades—and we know that it works.
Since the 1990s, Caterpillar has been an autonomous vehicle innovation leader in the mining industry. It now has the world’s largest autonomous fleet with over 500 haul trucks currently in operation. At year-end 2021, customers using their technology had safely hauled over 4 billion tonnes and traveled over 145 million kilometers autonomously. As more data emerges about the advantages of autonomous driving, companies like Caterpillar are looking to scale their products to be used in other industries.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers believes we are only a few short years away from noticing real changes in electrification and automation in large industrial vehicles. It estimates that in 10-15 years more than 80% of heavy equipment machinery will have electric powertrains and autonomous operation systems.
Of all industries that can benefit from autonomous vehicles, experts believe that it’s the construction industry that will change the most in coming years. This is mostly due to the controlled nature of construction, making it a prime candidate for autonomous driving. It’s also an industry that still uses the same techniques and processes for decades with fewer technological innovations than other areas. With many projects running over budget and over time, corporations are starting to invest in autonomous vehicle technology to help.
The move toward autonomous driving is happening for a variety of wide-ranging reasons. Autonomous vehicles improve health and safety on site by doing riskier tasks that previously were done by humans. As they are programmable, it creates more predictable project planning and outcomes and reduces project timescales. They also allow humans to focus on skills work rather than repetitive tasks. All these factors lead to an overall cost reduction and safer workplaces, which are obvious big wins for corporations.
Autonomous driving also addresses the issue of labor shortages. Not being able to recruit enough people to fill construction jobs has been a top worry for most construction firms even before the pandemic. Prior to 2020, firms were already finding it difficult to fill salaried and hourly positions and Covid has only exacerbated the problem.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there were over 334,000 construction job openings in June 2022 representing 4.2% of available construction jobs. In the mining and logging industry, that number is 34,000 job openings, or 5.2% of jobs in that sector. The effects of labor shortages are seen across multiple industries, including farming, and its supply chains — so, it's logical that autonomous equipment is seen as one solution to address this problem.
Autonomous vehicle innovations rely on cross-industry collaboration—including OEMs, tech and insurance companies, regulators and everyone else across the supply chain—to bring together existing and new products and technologies. Without the collaboration or commitment from any one industry, autonomous driving may remain something only accessible to the biggest corporations.
At Henkel, we know that we have a part to play in this transformation as well. Over the years we’ve created a portfolio of thermal management materials to meet the demands of modern electronic devices — helping ensure long product lifecycles and reliability. Every innovation and improvement along the supply chain makes the shift toward autonomous driving safer, more efficient, more sustainable and overall, more beneficial in meeting the needs of today.
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