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June 3, 2022

Advancements In Technology and AI For Construction

Construction technology and AI is becoming more and more the norm.

Look for yourself, it is everywhere.

  • 4D Modeling
  • Augmented Reality
  • Virtual Planning
  • Scheduling
  • Cost control

We all know that reliance on outdated methods prevent contractors from knowing the true progression of their projects. Consequently, projects often run over time and over budget. McKinsey reports that, “98 percent of mega projects suffer cost overruns of more than 30 percent, and 77 percent of mega projects are completed at least 40 percent late.”

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an aggregative term for describing when a machine mimics human cognitive functions, like problem-solving, pattern recognition, and learning. Machine learning is a field of artificial intelligence that uses statistical techniques to give computer systems the ability to "learn" from data, without being explicitly programmed. 

  • Globally, businesses spend over $10 trillion per year on construction-related activities -- and that spending is projected to keep growing by 4.2% until 2023. 
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Construction Market was valued at USD 422 Million in 2018
  • The artificial intelligence (AI) in construction market size will grow by USD 1.13 billion during 2019-2023.

 What are some of the Benefits of AI in Construction

Planning on Site - Robots can autonomously capture 3D scans of construction sites and then feed that data into a deep neural network that classifies how far along different sub-projects are. The management team can step in to deal with small problems before they become major issues. Algorithms of the future will  learn based on trial and error. They will be able to assess endless combinations and alternatives based on similar projects to prevent cost overages.

Production- There are companies that manufacture self-driving construction machinery to perform repetitive tasks more efficiently than their human counterparts, such as pouring concrete, bricklaying, welding, and demolition. Excavation and prep work is being performed by autonomous or semi-autonomous bulldozers, which can prepare a job site with the help of a human programmer to exact specifications. These tools free up human workers for the construction work itself and reduce the overall time required to complete a project. 

Better Design - BIM is a 3D model-based process software that provides architecture, engineering and construction professionals new insight to efficiently plan, design, construct and manage buildings and infrastructure. The 3D models  take into consideration the architecture, engineering, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) plans and the sequence of activities of the respective teams. The challenge is to ensure that the different models from the sub-teams do not clash with each other.

Off Site Construction - Structures like walls can be completed assembly-line style by autonomous machinery more efficiently than their human counterparts, leaving human workers to finish the detail work like plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems when the structure is fitted together.

Risk - There are AI and machine learning solutions today that general contractors use to monitor and prioritize risk on the job site, so the project team can focus their limited time and resources on the biggest risk factors. AI is used to automatically assign priority to issues. Subcontractors are rated based on a risk score so construction managers can work closely with high-risk teams to mitigate danger. 

Safety and Labor - Construction workers are killed on the job five times more often than other laborers. A Boston-based construction technology company created an algorithm that analyzes photos from  job sites, scans them for safety hazards such as workers not wearing protective equipment and correlates the images with its accident records. 

Labor shortages and a desire to boost the industry’s low productivity rates are leading construction companies to invest in AI and data science. A 2017 McKinsey report states that construction firms could boost productivity by as much as 50 percent through real-time analysis of data. A robot constantly evaluating job progress and the location of workers and equipment enables project managers to tell instantly which job sites have enough workers and equipment to complete the project on schedule, and which might be falling behind and where additional labor could be deployed.

Post Construction

By collecting information about a structure through sensors, drones, and other wireless technologies, advanced analytics and AI-powered algorithms gain valuable insights about the operation and performance of a building.  AI can be used to monitor developing problems, determine when preventative maintenance needs to be made, or even direct human behavior for optimal security and safety.

Though AI has tremendous potential to make construction sites safer and to upend design limits as we know them today, there is often debate and speculation  at the mention of autonomous worksite technology. I believe the skepticism isn’t unwarranted because it is too soon to see the impact of AI technology across the entire construction industry. One glaring fact remains - the construction industry is facing a labor shortage and AI tech has the greatest potential to ease the labor strain on companies by taking the load off of designers, managers and builders alike. 

Today, about 60% of construction companies have R&D departments for new technology, and the largest construction firms have substantial R&D budgets.  There is a strong interest and need to take advantage of newer construction-centric technologies, but only if they’re easy to use, easy to deploy or access while on a job site, and improve productivity almost immediately. 

The investment and unfamiliarity are likely to slow its implementation in smaller construction firms in the short term but there is increased investment from venture capital that will likely remedy that.

These factors have made construction tech appealing to investors, who have poured at least $3 billion into the sector.  One company, Parkway Venture Capital recently announced a $60 million venture capital fund, focusing on construction technology in artificial intelligence, data science and complex engineering

McKinsey & Company believes the construction industry  can find a 30% to 40% increase by using more innovative supply-chain management, on-site execution, technology, and capability-building techniques.

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