Like many industries, construction continues to benefit from emerging technologies that make projects faster, safer, and more efficient.
While artificial intelligence (AI) has struggled to take off in some sectors, AI in construction is already hard at work solving complex problems, streamlining repetitive tasks, and offering valuable insights for project managers and stakeholders.
WHAT IS AI, AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
Speaking pragmatically, AI is a kind of software that contains many algorithms and mathematical formulas which can perform tasks traditionally performed by humans in a fraction of the time. For example, a time-consuming task like organizing or analyzing information could instead rely on AI to transform a large data set into a small list of tasks or actionable insights. How that AI operates will depend on the task it’s given, but fundamentally, a program is fed information until it can draw conclusions about real-world conditions from that data.
For example, when an AI is trained to learn different aspects of construction and has construction photographs fed into it, the AI can learn to differentiate between different building materials and understand the correct installation method. The more information the AI is fed, the more intelligent it is. This unlimited learning capacity streamlines simple operations and can allow for a bird’s-eye-view understanding of macro trends over months or years that even sophisticated observers may have overlooked.
Digital construction solutions like new WiFi-enabled hardware and IoT devices create a wealth of data that can be processed to find new efficiencies. It can also be used to target inconsistencies in as-built conditions, preventing costly errors.
Here are four popular uses for AI technology in construction:
OPTIMIZING PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Project management is especially complex and challenging in construction. In an industry where small errors can lead to thousands of dollars in rework and missed deadlines, precision matters — and human error is costly.
Artificial intelligence in construction project management cuts down on coordination issues, quality oversights, and scheduling conflicts that can otherwise derail progress and delay project completion.
By leveraging 3D laser scans to compare as-built conditions with scheduled work, AI software can determine what percentage of work has been completed (and how much more needs to be done) and report that information to project leaders. On tight deadlines, this high level of project awareness can streamline subcontracting, permitting, or inspections with maximum efficiency and cost effectiveness.
AI image recognition can also spotlight missing elements, code issues, or inconsistencies between the plans and work completed. AI technology can be used to process job site documentation photography in detail, where it can be used to create accurate timelines and maintain adherence to the most recent plans. Early detection of problems in something like in-slab electrical or plumbing can prevent expensive, time-consuming rebuilds before the errors are covered up by successive phases of work.
Construction comes with inherent safety risks. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20.7% of total workplace fatalities in 2019 were in the construction industry. Additionally, non-fatal injury rates in the US construction industry are 71% higher than in any other industry. This means that safety should be a top priority for any construction company.
Luckily, sensors and AI technology can be utilized to monitor construction site activity and detect health and safety issues, such as:
- Workers not wearing the correct safety gear
- Unauthorized vehicles or persons entering the site
- Unsafe conditions (e.g. high levels of gas in the air, extreme temperatures, exposed wiring, fall hazards)
- Equipment that is malfunctioning or being used incorrectly
Some AI systems automatically notify management of potential risks so they can be addressed as soon as possible, reducing the likelihood of injury or fatality.
While these systems can’t replace essential safety management staff, they can augment safety management processes, speed up workflows, and provide an extra layer of protection.
For example, a 2016 ENR photo competition compared the efficiency of AI safety tools vs. humans at assessing images for risk. The AI assessed 1,080 images in under five minutes, while the human team took more than five hours.
ELIMINATING REPETITIVE TASKS
Managers are given many important tasks that require their full attention to keep a project safe, on time, and profitable. At the same time, those managers are often stuck doing tedious, time-consuming, and repetitive tasks that can distract from core operations. Thankfully, new AI systems can help minimize the time spent doing administrative work.
AI can take on tasks like scheduling and assigning workers to jobs, which saves time and reduces human error. For example, AI uses data on availability, experience, and information about approaching deadlines to automate scheduling in a way that maximizes time management and productivity. This capability can be especially valuable for hedging against labor shortages related to the shrinking skilled labor workforce. That way, you can give your full attention to the job at hand.
REVOLUTIONIZING DATA ANALYSIS
AI uses sophisticated data analysis to create efficiencies where humans may be more prone to error or much slower in analyzing specific data sets. Advanced algorithms can process data faster and more accurately than ever before, and as data management in construction improves, AI systems will only get smarter over time. The more high-quality data the AI is trained with, the more intelligent, accurate, and faster it can perform.
AI can be tailored for a number of use cases on a job site. Arguably, anywhere data is collected, it can be processed to improve time management and make tasks more cost effective. A few examples include:
- Geospatial AI that can quickly process UAV images and extract large amounts of data on environmental factors, landscape features, job site progress, and more.
- AI can compare data from past projects to in-progress work to determine the likelihood that a project will run over budget or time.
- AI can be used to track inventory and automate resupply before it’s needed — some software can even forecast raw material prices to notify you when it is best to buy.
- Quality control can benefit greatly as well. If we assume over half of all construction-related issues in the field are made during installation (a common QA/QC stat), we can leverage AI to ensure the right materials are used in combination with the proper installation.
- Scheduling updates and tracking subcontractor progress by floor or by area is another great use of AI. Image analysis can be used to identify what materials have been installed and where progress stands.
The use of artificial intelligence in the construction industry is accelerating rapidly. Builders who get in on the ground level will be well positioned to grow their business and weather uncertainties in the years to come. Of course, they’ll also be prepared to create more value for their clients — and achieve higher profits.
From photo documentation and 3D modeling services to UAVs, digital technology in the construction industry has a lot to offer. An industry leader like Hexagon’s Building Solutions can help show you the way.