AI in Construction: Nothing Artificial About the Benefits
Originally published on August 17, 2023
Updated on October 31st, 2023
The recent explosion of artificial intelligence (AI) in workplaces has introduced a wide range of benefits — and just as many apprehensions. And the use of AI in construction is no exception. While you might be curious about the cost and time savings it can create, you might worry about expense or the possible backlash from your employees.
Having a thorough understanding of AI’s capabilities might put some of those worries at ease. So let’s take a look at this emerging technology and how the role of AI in construction work could bring a new age of productivity.
Is AI in construction really new?
It might seem sudden, but AI in construction actually dates back to the 1980s and 1990s. This is when the industry began using expert systems, which mimic human judgment and behavior in certain areas of expertise. Rule-based systems were also employed; these use pre-defined rules to create solutions and make decisions.
At that time, these systems helped optimize plans and predict potential issues in the early stages of design. They were also used for cost estimation, project management and troubleshooting building structure issues and construction equipment problems.
However, these early applications were limited in their abilities and not very powerful. By the start of the 21st century, machine learning and data analytics began to emerge — paving the way (no pun intended) for far more robust and capable technologies.
Today AI in construction takes many forms, providing your company with a myriad of potential benefits. It can be applied in planning, project execution, accounting, budgeting… pretty much the entire spectrum of your operations.
Project Planning and Design
At the beginning of your project cycle, AI can play a role in streamlining operations, increasing quality and controlling costs.
With generative design software, you can input goals, material types, budgetary constraints and more. The software then generates a range of design options that meet the criteria you gave it. Building information modeling (BIM) can also be used to make predictions and recommendations during the design phase. For example, it might identify potential design concerns that could result in noncompliance with regulations or issues during construction.
Another instance of AI in construction is the use of simulation tools. These can help you analyze various aspects of building design, such as energy efficiency and how it might be affected by environmental conditions. AI can also handle the more tedious tasks of design — such as drawing and modeling — so designers can focus on more complex and creative efforts.
Additionally, AI helps you manage resources more efficiently. It can predict the amounts of materials you’ll need, suggest when to order them to avoid delays, and optimize the allocation of your personnel among job sites and projects. And predictive maintenance software helps you plan when equipment will need servicing or replacement. With this information, you can schedule on-site maintenance work optimally and reduce the chances of a costly breakdown.
You can use AI in construction to optimize your project’s schedule with machine learning algorithms. These can analyze past project data to see where delays and cost overruns occurred, helping you prevent them the next time around. They also help identify risks and potential issues before they occur and provide recommendations to mitigate them. You can even utilize models to analyze past project spending and provide accurate cost estimates going forward.
Project Management and Execution
Every aspect of an active project can be improved with AI technology. On the supervisory side, it’s being used to monitor project performance. Computer vision algorithms can analyze drone-generated images and videos from a construction site to find any deviations from your plans. This real-time tracking helps you fix issues before they become budget-busting problems and provides a higher level of quality control.
The execution of work also gets an assist with AI in construction. Robots and other machinery can perform simple physical tasks like laying bricks and tying rebar. Self-driving bulldozers, cranes and excavators are also emerging in construction work. These technologies allow your on-site workers to focus on tasks that require more skill and concentration.
The evolution of AI in construction has created more robust safety measures that protect your workforce and help you stay in compliance with OSHA.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Detection: Machine learning models use computer vision to monitor construction site video feeds in real time. They can identify whether workers are wearing required safety gear such as hard hats, safety vests, goggles, etc. If a worker is detected without proper PPE, an alert can be generated.
- Hazard Identification: Computer vision can detect conditions like the unsafe operation of machinery, the absence of safety harnesses and dangerously positioned objects.
- Predictive Analysis for Accidents: Machine learning can predict potential accidents before they happen. By analyzing historical data about incidents and near-misses, patterns can be identified and preventative actions taken.
- Worker Fatigue and Alertness Monitoring: AI can analyze patterns in biometric data or even physical behaviors detected via computer vision. Changes in these readings can indicate dehydration, dangerous heart rates and other indicators of fatigue or medical peril.
- Training: AI can also enhance safety training programs. Realistic simulations of construction environments can be created using virtual reality (VR).Workers can use this to learn how to navigate potential hazards without actual risk.
- Equipment Maintenance: Predictive maintenance powered by AI can forecast equipment malfunctions before they happen, reducing the risk of accidents caused by faulty machinery.
The use of AI in construction isn’t limited to direct project work. You can reap several benefits in your accounting operations as well. When these operations run with greater accuracy and efficiency, it means less waste and (often) greater profits.
AI-powered software can automate routine data entry tasks, making bookkeeping more efficient and accurate. These systems can identify, classify and record financial tractions on their own. This example of AI in construction can also streamline invoice processing; with automation, invoices automatically verified and reconciled against purchase orders and contracts. In both of these instances, you’ve reduces the chances of error from manual entry.
The cost prediction and management capabilities of AI give you the means to analyze past projects and predict the costs of future ones, helping you budget more effectively. This technology can also monitor expenses in real time, flagging overruns or discrepancies for immediate attention.
You can have AI analyze historical financial data to predict future revenues, costs and cash flow, as well as track and manage assets to calculate depreciation and maintenance needs. That knowledge is important when you bid on projects, invest in new equipment and otherwise manage your company’s finances.
Finally, AI in construction can play a big role in assurance and compliance. Analytical tools can process your financial data to spot irregularities or potential fraud that human eyes might miss. They can also ensure your company’s financial practices comply with regulations and identify potential issues that need correction.
A construction-focused CPA team can guide you through the many accounting AI tools available to help you choose the best solutions for your business.
Overcoming the Barriers to Implementing AI in Construction Firms
Even with all of these benefits, you likely face challenges to the use of AI tools. If you don’t have much data accessible or ready to use, or you have a variety of differing software products, analysis software won’t have the desired effect. You’ll also need to make sure your employees have the technical expertise to implement and manage AI technology effectively.
However, we generally notice two main roadblocks when adopting AI in construction. First there’s the cost concern. The initial investment to implement AI technology can be high, especially for smaller companies. While the long-term benefits can be significant, it could take some time before the ROI becomes apparent.
You might also face cultural resistance, because let’s face it — not everyone readily embraces change. And in the case of AI, you’re looking at technology that takes over responsibilities normally performed by people. This creates an added level of discomfort, which is completely understandable.
If you want to introduce AI at your company, the following measures will help ensure success.
- Communicate the changes clearly with your employees: Overcoming cultural resistance to AI will likely involve a significant change management effort. This should include communicating the benefits of AI in construction, involving employees in the implementation process, and providing support to help them adapt to new ways of working.
Also, be sensitive to employee concerns. AI in construction (heck, AI in general) is uncharted territory for many people, and the idea of software or machines taking over tasks can be scary. Emphasize the improvements they’ll see on the job (not wasting time with menial tasks, getting the information they need much more quickly, safer working conditions, etc.) to reassure them that their jobs aren’t going anywhere.
- Start small with a pilot project. Before investing heavily in AI, run a pilot project to test and demonstrate the value of the technology. This can help you and your workers understand the potential ROI and identify any issues that need to be addressed before a wider rollout. (It can also further demonstrate the benefits of AI in construction work, which might increase buy-in.)
- Provide training for your employees. Ensure your employees have the skills needed to use AI effectively. This might involve providing in-house training or partnering with educational institutions or training providers.
- Improve data management in your systems: It’s crucial to collect, store and manage high-quality data effectively. Otherwise, the AI analysis performed won’t be as accurate or productive. Enlist a data analytics services provider to capture the right data (both in terms of quantity and quality) and implement robust data management systems and practices (such as centralized data repositories).
- Standardize your data and software. Promoting and adopting industry-wide standards can make it easier to implement and use AI in construction. This might involve using standardized software or practices, or collaborating with other companies to develop and adopt common standards. A data analytics services provider can help you here as well.
- Collaborate with your legal and compliance teams: To address regulatory challenges, it’s important to involve legal and compliance experts from the early stages of implementation. They’ll guide you on how to use AI in a way that best complies with relevant regulations.
- Take proper cybersecurity measures: The use of AI in construction companies can introduce new cybersecurity risks. With more ins for hackers to get to your data or interrupt your operations, you need robust cybersecurity measures to protect your network and ensure data privacy. This includes firewalls, encryption, two-factor authentication, and regular security audits. (Hint: You should already have most, if not all, of these measures in place.) An experienced IT services provider can assess your current technology environment, find risks and take steps to mitigate them.
While the role of AI in construction is still taking shape, its benefits are already being seen by companies utilizing it. The key is to do your research, find what works for your company and enlist expert advisors for assistance. By taking these important measures, you’re more likely to see success and growth as you build your company’s future.
All content provided in this article is for informational purposes only. Matters discussed in this article are subject to change. For up-to-date information on this subject please contact a James Moore professional. James Moore will not be held responsible for any claim, loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of any information within these pages or any information accessed through this site.
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