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Proceedings of ICE

Civil Engineering 156 February 2003


Pages 3441 Paper 12562

Keywords
Design methods & aids; information
technology; research & development

Automated
construction
in Japan
Mark Taylor

is an Engineering and Physical


Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
research student at the School of
the Built Environment at Napier
University, Edinburgh

Dr Sam Wamuziri

Over the last 20 years the concept of automating construction


and civil engineering operations has become a reality within
Japan, resulting in improvements in site safety, efficiency and
productivity. Examples renewed in this paper include concrete
finishing, material handling, earthworks and integrated
construction automation systems. However, the paper
concludes that construction environments need to be much
more structured and controlled before construction robots
can really start to take over.

is a construction management lecturer at Napier University, Edinburgh

The earliest documentated research into


automated construction processes was
undertaken in 1978 by a team of academics, robot manufacturers and general
contractors, and was sponsored by the
Japan Industrial Robot Association. This
triggered further construction robot
Dr Ian Smith

is a senior geotechnical engineering


lecturer at Napier University,
Edinburgh

research1 and, during the following 20


years, the Japanese construction and civil
engineering sectors witnessed the development of more than 550 systems for
unmanned operation and automation of
construction works.2
The definition of a construction robot
covers a broad array of autonomous and
tele-operated systems. The term robot is
synonymous with almost every machine
that incorporates an automated component.3 The following four fundamental
definitions of construction robots prevail

Fig. 1. Honda humanoidone of the latest of


over 550 construction automation systems
being developed in Japan

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tele-operated human-machine systems


pre-programmed systems
autonomous with onboard sensors
integrated construction automation
systems.

Current practical applications generally


fall within the first two categories. The
third category universally describes ongoing construction mechatronics research
and the fourth category describes the
amalgamation of existing capabilities and
their application within a re-engineered
construction site, having a similar appear-

AUTOMATED CONSTRUCTION IN JAPAN

ance to a traditional automated manufacturing facility.

Japanese continue to lead the way


Despite the economic recession in
Japan and declining investment in public
and private sector construction and civil
engineering, the largest construction contractors continue to invest substantially
in research and development. Unlike the
UK, the majority of Japanese construction-related research is conducted within
private research institutes. The big-six
Japanese contractorsKajima, KumagaiGumi, Obayashi, Taisei, Takanaka and
Shimizuannually contribute 1% of
their turnover to research and development (Fig. 1).4,5 It is understandable that
with this level of annual investment,
Japanese contractors are leading the field
in construction automation and robotics.
However, over the last decade research
staff numbers have decreased and the
quantity of construction automation and
robotics research has declined (Fig. 2).
Cost redemption for large research and

development expenditure is proving to be


difficult, even though the potential for
future use and profitability is obvious.
The Japanese Construction
Mechanisation Association recently concluded that the failure of construction
automation site use rests upon the inability
to recover the research, development and
manufacturing costs and the overall inability to reduce on-site labour requirements.
Nevertheless, construction automation and
robotics is still seen in Japan as the key to
a safer, more successful and profitable
construction industry.

Increasing productivity with


tele-operated systems

Fig. 2. Obayashi ABCS integrated construction


automation systemmore of a factory than a
construction site

Skilled labour shortages and an ageing


workforce have generated a real need for
increased productivity through the use of
single-task, human-machine construction
systems.6 The Japanese have found that
these systems appear to be the most economic and efficient means of introducing
automation in construction.
Human operatives provide sensory

Table 1. Summary of existing material manipulators and application status (source: Japanese Council for Construction Robot Research (1999) and focus groups)
System
developer

System
name

Weight

Operation description
and control

Sensors

Power
source

Lift
capacity

Application
status

Shimizu Corporation
and Mitsubishi Heavy
Industries

Material-handling
system for
interior finishes

700 kg

Automated guided vehicle


guided via metal tape installed
in the floor in appropriate location

Bumper for
24 V DC
automatic shut battery
down following
collision

1300 kg

Successfully used on three Shimizu


construction projects. Enables
reduction in number of operatives
required for material handling

Obayashi
Corporation

GYAPTS

0.5 t, 1.1 t
or 1.8 t

Suspender device for cranes


Angular
activated by gyroscopic moments.
velocity
GYAPTS rotates and inclines materials sensor
to desired erection orientation

24 V DC
Depends upon
battery
the capacity
(2 or 4 sets) of the crane
being used

Over 65 units have been sold to


domestic construction contractors.
GYAPTS employed within ABCS
and the Big-Canopy system

Shimizu
Corporation

CFR-1

485 kg

Manually operated using


remote-control console

N/A

100 V AC
50/60 Hz
external

300 kg
(20 boards)

Successfully applied to Shimizu


construction projects, positioning
a total of 2000 m2 of ceiling boards

Toda
Corporation

TO-AUTO FX

Manually operated using


remote-control console

Laser
positioning
sensors

200 V AC
external

250 kg

Successfully implemented on
24-storey high-rise project
(October 1995February 1996)

Tokyu
Corporation

Light weight
manipulator
(see Fig. 3)

635 kg

Controlled using joy-stick


near the manipulator

N/A

Truck:
24 V DC
Manipulator
: 200 V AC

120 kg

Available for rent or lease. System


has been applied to 13 construction
projects

Tokyu Corporation
and Hitachi
Construction
Machinery Co. Ltd

Construction
manipulator

8300 kg

Manually operated excavator


with pincer tool

N/A

Diesel engine 9800 kg

Available for purchase from Hitachi


Construction Machinery Co. Ltd

Kajima Corporation

Mighty Hand

1500 kg

Manually operated using


remote control console

N/A

200 V AC
external

500 kg

Prototype system. Not commercially


available

Komatsu Ltd

Kalcatta LM15-1

520 kg

Manually operated using


remote-control console

N/A

100 V AC

150 kg
(3.0 m)

Over 60 units have been sold to


domestic construction contractors.
Mainly used for the installation of
cladding

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35

TAYLOR, WAMUZIRI AND SMITH

abilities which are still proving too technologically difficult for successful automation. The following sections review some
of the single-task automated construction
systems that have been used on domestic
Japanese construction projects.

struction projects, providing autonomous


transportation of building components to
their appropriate erection location.

Material manipulators
Material manipulators have been developed as practical solutions to placing oversized heavy components within the
construction environment (Fig. 3). Table 1
provides a summary of the material manipulators that have been developed in Japan.
These systems are generally guided manually but automated guided vehicles have
been successfully adapted for use on con-

Concrete placing and finishing


Tele-operated articulated concrete distribution arms improve the quality and safety of
concrete placing while greatly reducing the
number of operatives required. Tele-operated and autonomous trowelling machines
provide a more predictable finishing rate in
combination with increased productivity
(Fig. 4). Table 2 presents a summary of concrete floor finishing systems developed within Japan. Details regarding their control and
operation systems are outlined in conjunction with their level of practical use.

Fig. 3. The Tokyu lightweight material manipulator can double the speed of ceiling erection

Fig. 4. The Tokimec Robocon radio-controlled


system can trowel 700 m2 of concrete in an hour

Radio-controlled construction plant


Radio-control adaptation enables the
operator to control a machine while observing images at a place remote from the
immediate work environment (Fig. 5). In
general, these systems combine global positioning systems, stereoscopic images, virtual
reality and various work monitors in a control room located away from the machine
working area. The main advantages of the
radio-controlled construction plant are
increased operator safety, improved labour
management and greater work efficiency.
The Japanese Ministry of Construction
has successfully used an array of tele-operated machines to conduct work within the
immediate vicinity of volcanoes and land-

Fig. 5. The control centre for remotely


operated earthmoving plant

Table 2. Summary of existing concrete finishing systems and application status (source: Japanese Council for Construction Robot Research (1999) and
focus groups)

36

System
developer

System
name

Weight

Operation

Sensors

Hazama
Corporation and
Eroica Corporation

Floor
trowelling
robot

120 kg

Manual: radio control

Kajima Corporation
and Tokimec
Construction
Systems Inc.

Kote-King

141 kg

Obayashi
Corporation

Floor work
robot

Work
rate

Application
status

Obstacle detection Onboard


and protection
1.5 kW petrol
bumper
engine

300 m2/hr

Successfully applied to domestic


construction projects (execution
records unavailable)

Automatic: pre-programme
work area and start
automatic operation
Manual: radio control

Tactile collision
sensor

300
500 m2/h

30 units sold to domestic


construction sector since 1990

300 kg

Automatic: input range of


area and obstructions
Manual: radio control

Opening, laser
Electric and
positioning and
petrol engine
obstacle detection

500 m2/h

Successfully applied to 15
domestic construction projects
finishing over 30 000 m2

Tokimec Construction Robocon


Systems Inc.
(see Fig. 4)

68 kg

Manual: radio control

N/A

Onboard
1.5 kW petrol
engine

700 m2/h

Over 150 units sold to domestic


specialist concrete subcontractors

Takanaka Corporation Surf Robo


and Sanwa Motoron
Co. Ltd

185 kg

Manual: radio control


Automatic: teach box

Tactile collision
sensor and
pressure sensor
on trowel blades

External electric 300 m2/h


power supply or
onboard petrol
engine

27 units sold by manufacturer to


international construction industry.
Successfully utilised on 96 Takanaka
projects finishing over 920 000 m2

Shimizu Corporation

300 kg

Manual: radio control

Tactile collision
sensor

Onboard petrol 400


engine and
800 m2/h
dynamo

Successfully used on a broad range of


Shimizu construction projects

C I V I L

Flat-Kn

E N G I N E E R I N G

Power
source

External
electricity
supply

AUTOMATED CONSTRUCTION IN JAPAN

slides. A series of traditional earthmoving


machines are manipulated by way of a
radio-control system and a variety of sensors mounted on the machines (Fig. 6).
These systems may also prove to be an
efficient means of conducting quarrying,
mining and general earthmoving procedures (Fig. 7).

Integrated systemsthe way


forward for automation
Many large Japanese construction companies are finding integrated construction
to be an attractive strategic option in
meeting increased competition.7 Table 3
presents a summary of the integrated

Fig. 6. The Japanese Government has developed a range of remotely operated earthmoving equipment for working in dangerous
environments, such as around volcanoes and
landslides

Fig. 7. The Tokyu remote-controlled excavation system has been used for shafts and
piles up to 24 m deep

Table 3. Integrated automated construction system applications 19892001 (source: Cousineau and Miura,4 Miyakawa et al.,7 Furuya et al.,10 the Japan
Council for Construction Robot Research (1999) and company corporate brochures)
Company name

System name

Superstructure (B=Basement, F= Floors)

Project name and duration

Obayashi Corporation

ABCS

2B, 28F, 79 752 m2, steel and precast concrete

NEC Head Office, Kanagawa, October 1997 to January 2000 (Fig. 9)

Obayashi Corporation

ABCS

2B, 10F, 10 226 m , steel and precast concrete


2

Riverside Sumida Bachelor Dormitory, June 1993 to April 1994

Obayashi Corporation

Big-Canopy

30F, 42 655 m , precast concrete

DBS Square office building, Singapore, November 1997 to


September 1999 (first application outside Japan)

Obayashi Corporation

Big-Canopy

1B, 37F, 28 505 m2, precast concrete

Nada-Hinode Cho condominium, Kobe,April 1997 to June 1999

Obayashi Corporation

Big-Canopy

22F, 12 641 m2, precast concrete

NEXAS Kashii Central Tower condominium, Fukuoka,


September 1996 to March 1998

Obayashi Corporation

Big-Canopy

26F, 30 726 m2, precast concrete

Yachiyodai condominium,Yachiyodai, February 1995 to


February 1997 (Fig. 12)

Obayashi Corporation

Big-Canopy

1B, 27F, 25 540 m2, precast concrete

CAMZA Square Towers, condominium, Chiba, January 1995 to


Febuary 1997

Shimizu Corporation

New SMART

1B, 35F, 29 076 m2, precast concrete

Makauhari SH-1 project, condominium, November 1998 to March 2001

Shimizu Corporation

New SMART

3B, 34F, 253 054 m , precast concrete

HDB Center, Singapore, project duration data unavailable


(first application outside Japan)

Shimizu Corporation

Simplified SMART System

6F, 4408 m2, steel and precast concrete

Hotel Mets, Kawasaki, project duration data unavailable

Shimizu Corporation

Simplified SMART System

3B, 16F, 52 115 m2, steel and precast concrete

Denso New Building, project duration data unavailable

Shimizu Corporation

SMART

30F, 74 927m , steel


2

Nisseki Building,Yokohama, July 1994 to June 1997

Shimizu Corporation

SMART

20F, 20 657m , steel

Juroku Bank Building, Nagoya, October 1991 to February 1994

Taisei Corporation

T-Up

2B, 34F, 110 918 m2, steel, in-situ and


precast concrete

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Yokohama Building,April 1992 to


March 1994

Takanaka Corporation

Roof Push-up Method

2B, 16F, 11 880 m2, steel and precast concrete

Dowa Fire and Marine Insurance Building, November 1993 to


February 1995

Takanaka Corporation

Roof Push-up Method

2B, 13F, 7940 m2, steel, in situ and precast concrete Yanagibashi Mitsui Building, Nagoya, October 1989 to May 1991.

Kajima Corporation

AMURAD

9F, steel and precast concrete

Maeda Corporation

MCCS

4B, 9F, 10 807 m2, steel and precast concrete

Tepco-Building Ltd,Tokyo,April 1995 to March 1998

Maeda Corporation

MCCS

2B, 11F, 6614 m2, steel and precast concrete

Sekai-Bunka-sya Corporation,Tokyo, June 1992 to February 1994

Fujita Corporation

Akatsuki 21

1B, 16F, 13 065m2, steel and precast concrete

Shuyo-dan Building Construction Work head office, March 1994 to


June 1996 (including demolition of old structure)

Kajima Chigusa Company Housing, Nagoya, December 1995 to


October 1996.

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37

TAYLOR, WAMUZIRI AND SMITH

construction automation systems that have


been used in the construction of high-rise
structures in Japan.
Integrated construction automated systems consist of four fundamental elements
a temporary covered working platform
and jacking system
just-in-time delivery of structural members and sub-assembled components
an automated material handling system
a centralised on-site integrated control
centre.
A fully enclosed temporary working
platform provides a factory type environment within which all material manipula-

tors and automated construction systems


operate. The enclosed working structure
provides protection from adverse weather
conditions and reduces the impact of the
construction project upon the surrounding
environment. The entire platform is constructed on hydraulic jacks and once each
floor is complete, these can be activated to
raise the working platform to a suitable
level for completion of the next floor.
Structural members and prefabricated
sub-assemblies are delivered only when
needed. They are identified using barcodes
and then automatically transported from
the unloading area (ground level) to their
final position within the structure (working platform). Material manipulators auto-

Jib crane

13 t crane with
360 rotating jib
Mobile
platform
for exterior
work

13 t material lift

ABCS constructed
at the 7th level

39.5m

Fig. 8. The cross-section of the Obayashi ABCS integrated construction automation systemthe self-contained factory completes two floors before rising

38

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matically orientate and position the subassemblies and structural members.


A central information management system monitors and coordinates the construction process. The system maintains a
real-time inventory of structural components, working drawings, scheduling and
progress. Furthermore, it monitors material manipulator operations, labour activity,
safety and quality standards.

Two examples of successful


integrated systems
Two of the most successful integrated
construction automation systems are the
Obayashi Corporations Automated
Building Construction System (ABCS) and
the Big-Canopy system.
Automated Building Construction System
The ABCS integrates factory automation
with construction project operations and
allows work to continue independently of
adverse weather conditions. A parallel
material delivery system performs the vertical and horizontal transport of structural
components from the site delivery area to
the construction operation level.
Figure 8 shows a cross-sectional view of
a typical ABCS construction factory. The
factory framework supporting the cranes
and material hoists consists of the structural steel roof for the finished structure.
The climbing mechanism rests on alternate
structural steel columns and the uppermost section of each column is equipped
with a locking hydraulic jack system. On
completion of two structural floors and
exterior cladding, the factory is automatically jacked up. The entire system, including cranes and material hoists, weighs
approximately 2200 t.
The robots used within the system are
generally more automated versions of existing plant, such as automatically guided
cranes, plus existing robots brought from
the manufacturing industry, such as welders
and automated guided vehicles for material
handling. The control system allows the site
manager to review construction progress,
revise the programme of work and arrange
the future delivery of materials without
leaving the on-site office facility.
The system was first applied during
1994 in the construction of the Riverside
Sumida residential building and, in 1997

AUTOMATED CONSTRUCTION IN JAPAN

Big-Canopy system
The Big-Canopy system uses a combination of precast and in situ concrete with
modular sub-assemblies (Fig. 12). Precast
components include columns, beams, slabs
and interior wall elements. Additional prefabrication includes vertical and horizontal
drainpipes, air-conditioning ducts, low

the construction schedule for a 30-storey


structure can be reduced by three
months and the schedule for a 40-storey
structure can be reduced by six months
30
25

SCF assembley
SCF disassembley

15

Floor construction
Finishing

6 Months

3 Months

20
Months

to 2000, the system was used for the 28storey NEC Tamagawa Renaissance City
building (Fig. 9). Automated procedures
included the erection and welding of the
steel elements, the installation of prefabricated floor panels, the fitting of curtain
walls and the jacking of the construction
operation platform.
The Obayashi Corporation claim that
the construction schedule for a 30-storey
structure can be reduced by three months
and the schedule for a 40-storey structure
can be reduced by six months. Fig. 10
compares construction schedules for
three conventional high-rise construction
projects and three high-rise projects using
the system. Fig. 11 shows a comparison
of unit labour requirements of four construction projects undertaken by the
Obayashi Corporation. The first two projects used conventional high-rise construction techniques and the final two
projects used ABCS.

2.5 Months

10
5
0

ABCS
(F20)

Conventional
(F20)

ABCS
(F30)

Conventional
(F30)

ABCS
(F40)

Conventional
(F40)

Fig. 10. ABCS has cut the time taken to build a 40-storey building by six
months

Conventional
method (2nd project)
Conventional
method (1st project)
ABCS (2nd project)

ABCS (1st project)


0.0

Steel erection
HTB, welding

20.0

40.0

Floor work
Safety facilities

60.0

80.0

Exterior work
Marking

100.0

120.0

140.0

Packing (per floor)


ABCS related work

Fig. 11. ABCS has shown to be more consistent and cheaper than conventional high-rise construction

Fig. 9. The Obayashi ABCS constructing the


28-storey NEC building in Tamagawa
Renaissance City, completed in 2000

Fig. 12. The Obayashi Big-Canopy system provides a comprehensive


overhead delivery system and improved working environmentseen here
constructing the Yachiyodai condominium project, completed in 1997

C I V I L

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39

TAYLOR, WAMUZIRI AND SMITH

superstructure erection work with alternative construction techniques. The working


environment is also improved through
reducing the surface temperature of operatives and their work environment.
The Obayashi Corporation found that
out of all the high-rise structures authorised by the Building Center for Japan,
over the period from 1986 to 1995, 82%
(119) of the structures could have been
constructed using the Big-Canopy system.
With each new application of the system,
the Obayashi Corporation expects
improvements in efficiency and greater
reduction in construction costs. Similar to
ABCS, the Big-Canopy system provides a
structured environment for the future use
of more advanced construction manipulators and control systems.

Humanoid robotsfuture
construction operatives?

Fig. 13. The Big-Canopy system uses a precast modular construction technique

current indoor cables and wooden interior


partitions. Fig. 13 shows the precast modular construction system used in conjunction
with the Big-Canopy system.
The system consists of a 13 t rack and
pinion gondola-type construction lift for
vertical material delivery and automated
overhead cranes for horizontal delivery
and structural element orientation and
positioning. Cranes are operated from the
construction floor using handheld radiocontrol units, though acceleration and
deceleration are controlled automatically
to avoid accidental damage. Rotation
caused by wind and inertia is also controlled, which also ensures components
are at the precise angle for erection.

Conventional
in-situ method

100

System framework
method

72.9

PC concrete
and tower crane

38.6

Big-canopy
project Y

25.6

Big-canopy
project K

26

Big-canopy
project H

The cranes are housed underneath a


synchronously climbing temporary roof
structure. The entire weight of the roof
frame, climbing device, overhead cranes
and jib crane is approximately 600 t. The
roof structure is raised two floors at a time
at a rate of 300 mm/min.
The Big-Canopy system was initially used
on a 26-storey high-rise precast concrete
residential building within the Chiba prefecture of Tokyo. The number of operatives
engaged in the erection work was 65% of
that used in normal precast construction
techniques and 25% of that used in traditional piecemeal reinforced concrete construction techniques. Fig. 14 compares the
labour man-days per m2 floor area of the

20
0

10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
Labour man-days per m2 floor area (conventional in situ =100)

Fig. 14. Productivity is up at least a third using the Big-Canopy system

40

C I V I L

In response to increasing demand for


humanoid robots capable of undertaking
complex tasks to support humans in everyday industrial activities, the Japanese
Agency of Industrial Science and
Technology and the Ministry of
International Trade and Industry started a
five-year humanoid robotics research and
development project in 1998.
The platform-based approach consists of
a humanoid robot developed by Honda
Research and Development Ltd and a control cockpit developed by Kawasaki Heavy
Industries Ltd, Matsushita Electric Works
Ltd, Fanuc Ltd and the University of
Tokyo.8 Fujitsu, Hitachi and the University
of Tokyo have also developed a virtual
humanoid robot platform.9 Although the

E N G I N E E R I N G

100

Fig. 15. BROKK demolition manipulator on the Meadowside granary demolition project in Clydeside

AUTOMATED CONSTRUCTION IN JAPAN

system is currently only an advanced prototype, the potential application throughout


hazardous
industries is endless.
Possible applications in construction
include plant operation, welding, material
handling, disaster recovery, nuclear industry
operations and security services. However, it
may be argued that complex bi-pedal walking motions may be unnecessary for many
construction mechatronics applications.

Holborn Place, London. The system consists of an HIAB 26T crane combined with
four 300 mm Pannkoke vacuum suction
cups and a unique patented multi-positional head. With a 2.1 m and 3.1 m jib
length, the system can handle loads of up
to 500 kg. Although primarily used for fitting glazing, it has also been used to position and place a variety of alternative
materials, such as steel and aluminum
plates and stone and concrete elements.

Limited automation on UK
projects

Conclusions

There has been limited use of tele-operated construction plant in UK construction


work, but the following are two recent
examples of successful implementation.
Meadowside granary demolition project,
Clydeside
Figure 15 shows a BROKK BM180 teleoperated demolition manipulator used by
Scotdem Ltd at Meadowside granaries in
Clydeside. It consists of a three-part
hydraulic boom fitted with a hydraulic
hammer, which is attached to the 360
rotating crawler track base. Other tools
that can be mounted on the boom include
crushing jaws, loader buckets, backhoe
buckets and clamshell buckets. According
to Scotdem Ltd, the machine is capable of
demolishing between 15 and 30 m3 of
reinforced structural concrete per day.
Daily Mail Holborn Place project, London
Figure 16 shows a GGR Glass Services
ergonomic manipulating unit being used
by SN Murdoch Ltd for erecting exterior
glazing at the Daily Mail building in

Fig. 16. GGR Glass Services ergonomic


manipulating unit erecting glazing at the Daily
Mail building in Londo

Fully automated construction systems are


still too technologically sophisticated and
prohibitively expensive for operation within
an unstructured construction environment.
Tele-operated construction machinery offers
limited productivity benefits but can
increase operator safety and work quality.
Further development and implementation
of construction automation and robotics will
only be possible if construction projects are
re-engineered to provide a more structured
and controlled operating environment. The
integrated construction automation systems
currently being developed in Japan are an
example of how this can be achieved.

Acknowledgements
This paper is based primarily on the findings of a research tour to Japan in 2000.
The authors would like to thank the Royal
Society of Edinburgh and the J. M. Lessells
Travel Scholarship Trust for funding the
tour. The authors gratefully acknowledge
Tokyu Construction Co. Ltd, Tokimec
Construction Systems Inc., Takahashi
Construction Systems Inc., the Kajima
Corporation, the Shimizu Corporation, the
Maeda Corporation, Kumagai-Gumi Co.
Ltd, the Taisei Corporation, the Takanaka
Corporation, the Obayashi Corporation,
ABC Trading Ltd, the Ministry of
Construction Public Works Research
Institute and the Ministry of International
Trade and Industry Mechanical Engineering
Laboratory for their assistance. The authors
thank the individuals within their own companies who have made an invaluable contribution to the research. Furthermore, the
authors acknowledge contributions to the
research from Oliver McGurn of Scotdem
Ltd, and Gill Riley and Andy Wandsworth
of GGR Glass Services Ltd.

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construction system for high-rise reinforced concrete buildings. Proceedings of the
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