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4 ways AI is revolutionising the construction industry 

A construction worker using a digital camera in his work

AI helps construction workers build up a better picture of their site needs Image: Photo by Morgan Von Gunten on Unsplash

Meirav Oren
Executive Chairman and Co-Founder, Versatile
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Tech and Innovation

This article is part of: Annual Meeting of the New Champions

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  • Despite many technological advancements, the construction process is still largely unstructured and reactive.
  • However, in addition to gathering information with sensors, construction companies are beginning to use AI to unlock valuable insights previously buried in their data.
  • By leveraging AI in their construction workflows, companies can vastly improve their organization, pace and efficiency.

Even in today’s modern world, the construction process is mostly fractured and low-tech. It's nearly indistinguishable from building sites in the 1990s. Site leaders still rely on outdated designs, lagging schedule projections and performance metrics that lack the real-time insights they need to measure and improve.

In a data-rich environment where every under-utilised day has massive financial implications, artificial intelligence (AI) quickly gives construction companies a key advantage. These companies are often surprised by the number of steps required to arrive at their desired result, but behind those steps lie many details with massive opportunities for efficiency optimisations. New tools eliminate guesswork and enable managers and supervisors to really understand, not just the activity in their worksites, but also ways to optimise everyday tasks. By gaining visibility and a deeper understanding of their projects, these leaders can easily make adjustments that uplift the profitability of every project.

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Teaming AI software with hardware

To further utilise these tools, innovative construction companies combine AI software with hardware. Pairing data collected by common sensors with powerful AI analysis, site leaders serve real-time insights that enable them to optimise projects in radical ways. The value of these insights is tremendous, growing exponentially as the library of data increases with each project.

These developments could not have come at a more opportune time. With skilled labour shortages, an ageing workforce, a strain on materials, a delayed supply chain and tighter margins than ever before – it’s imperative to leverage the power of AI to enable efficiency at every step of the built process. AI is revolutionising construction in four ways:

1. Equipment usage optimisation

Construction sites require massive investments in equipment. Having a clear picture of what was done, how long it took and how the results compare to the schedule, allows for improvement based on a verified source of truth. It's now possible to optimise construction schedules without relying on rinse-and-repeat schedules for each project to determine how long things really take. This knowledge alone makes the process more efficient and more profitable.

2. Acceleration of education and on-the-job training

With increased efforts to entice career transitions to the construction industry, the need for efficient training is at an all-time high. By leveraging AI and predictive modelling solutions that track, capture and suggest what best practices were done before and how tasks could be improved in the future, construction novices can ramp up for their new roles by leveraging the experience of construction veterans through systematic data capture. Streamlining learnings and packaging it into easy-to-understand onboarding guides helps take the burden off ‘not knowing what you don’t know’ in a new role.

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3. Increased site safety

AI contributes to a decrease in accidents and fatalities with better process control. By leveraging AI in worksites, you can detect and analyse potential hazards, monitor and flag unsafe activities and ensure compliance with protocols.

4. Increased sustainability

Construction sites can produce a lot of waste. From change orders and inaccurate design plans to an overestimation of materials needed, AI can be especially insightful to help reduce waste during projects. In procurement, it can help accurately forecast exactly what is needed and when and at what rate. In doing so, it can significantly reduce material waste, optimise the costs allocated for materials and positively impact the entire workflow of the construction site. When unexpected materials arrive, the site must drop what they’re doing and organize where they will physically be placed, derailing higher priority operations scheduled for that time period.

Perfect timing

Despite its reputation for being an industry slow to adopt tech, it seems the stars have aligned for AI and construction. Low-cost, high return-on-investment (ROI) solutions are being introduced uncovering profits that make adoption imminent. These solutions are also user-first, making adoption easy, with no additional or external operators involved.

2021’s GlobalData survey and report identified the top four reasons behind the construction industry’s tech adoption barriers. Here those barriers are explained, alongside how AI can knock them down.

1. 45% of respondents identified limited financial gain in the short term as a barrier to investment in new technology. But in 2023, the financial gains (both long-term and short-term) provided by AI is too massive to be ignored.

2. 36% said they lack financial resources allotted for technological innovation. Now in 2023, AI has quickly become a low-cost, high-ROI solution for any organization.

3. 34% responded that slow adoption was due to a lack of sufficiently skilled labour. In 2023, AI’s accessible, user-friendly capabilities make almost everybody skilled labour by default.

4. 28% said that the tech barrier was due to a lack of awareness of new technology. While still relevant in 2023, AI solutions have become widespread very quickly and its solutions definitely pique interest in most.

The transformative role of AI in shaping the future of the built world is unfolding quickly and can’t be overstated. The construction process stands to benefit greatly from integrating and leveraging AI technologies, especially when paired with on-site hardware and simple user experiences.

While we’re still at an early stage of this revolution, embracing AI isn’t just an optional add-on anymore. It’s a necessity for construction companies looking to survive and thrive in the new generation of the built world.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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