Artificial intelligence is disrupting multiple industries. In construction, A.I. is a big game-changer.
In a January 2021 report, “AI: Construction’s New Frontier of Digital Enablement,” consultant Ernst & Young Global Ltd. highlights the role of A.I. in the construction sector. The premise of the report is the present and future disruption that digitization has brought to the construction industry.
According to the report, “The reducing cost of digital enablement, staffing challenges and the increasing complexity of business is forcing disruption upon the industry. Of all the digital technologies, automation holds out the most promise for achievable digital enablement.” In other words, the growing pressure to do more with less means construction leaders must turn to digital tools for help.
A.I. and automation
The report offers some meaty information about what automation can do for an enterprise, stating that A.I. reduced processing time by up to 98% (a whopper of a statistic) and significantly cut down on labor, operational expenditures and costs while preserving schedules and improving quality.
The report focuses on three areas where A.I. will have the greatest impact on construction:
Planning and preparing for design and production using modeling
More intelligent sequencing of construction
Improved connectivity for operations and maintenance
For design-build, this means predicting risk ahead of production to consider alternative actions, and mapping processes could be used in various functions to aid decision-making.
Practically speaking, a virtual and iterative process using, say, robotics process automation (RPA) alleviates mundane and repetitive tasks such as inputting data in change orders or work orders. RPA can be trained to seek information and fill out a form for project managers in the day-to-day workings of a project. This frees the project manager to attend to other tasks that help make the project more efficient, less costly and more profitable.
A.I. may also be used to tabulate materials required and find more efficient paths for cableways, such as in a complex data or cable wiring configuration. Using an arsenal of historical data—everything from weather to geography to parts consumption—can help A.I. better prepare the project team to plan and source physical products and workers.
The report explains many key terms related to A.I. and shows how it uses digitization, machine learning and digital algorithms to drive efficiency and success in managing complex construction projects.
Digitizing for project complexity
A.I. will soon be used within construction projects (the more complex the project, the greater the potential benefit) from the early planning stages, to event sequencing, job and change order processing and expediting, material usage and preservation and dispatching the right employee to the right place at the right time.
Every construction project has a supply chain that includes physical materials, designers, builders, site survey personnel and close-out procedures. There are numerous moving parts, from concept to punch list. The beauty of digitization will find its way into every area eventually.
A.I.’s bright future
The construction industry is still in the early adoption phase with A.I. While planners may employ it, the extended construction supply chain may not yet use it.
Expect this to change as the benefits reveal the merit of digital technologies to cut costs, speed schedules and reduce the payroll a bit. At that point, the technology rests on its own merit and sells itself.
However, stakeholders within the supply chain must still gain an understanding of what A.I. is, how it works and, most important, what it can mean for their contribution to construction.
The Ernst & Young report refers to “technological advancements disrupting the global construction industry.” A.I. is slated to grow from its 2018 level of $400 million to $2 billion by 2023.
The authors note that the growth is fueled by the results that A.I. brings—particularly by expediting repetitive tasks and finding ways to reduce costs. This feeds right into the financial returns from investing in A.I. development and adopting cloud-based computing solutions that aid this effort: $1.8 billion by 2023. The expected compound annual growth rate of 35.1% can be attributed to A.I.’s ability to facilitate laborious, repeated tasks common in construction projects. When applied across all stages of an asset’s life cycle, the benefits grow substantially.