Last updated: AI in construction: 6 ways it’s changing the industry

AI in construction: 6 ways it’s changing the industry

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Not long ago, building information modeling (BIM) was the hottest topic in the construction industry. But that’s no longer true, thanks to ChatGPT. Now the big question is this: What can generative artificial intelligence (AI) — and AI in general — do for construction?

It’s still early days, but AI in construction is already driving value, reducing risk and boosting efficiency and safety across the spectrum of planning, engineering, delivery and operations.

This business is rife with pain points — and opportunities. Construction is an industry with incredible capabilities but very real challenges: lean margins, labor shortages, communication and skill gaps, project delays, scope creep, growing regulatory mandates, sustainability pressures, and supply chain disruptions.

AI can help address all these challenges. Here are six areas where it’s already making an impact or will be doing so within the next couple of years:

  1. Bidding + planning
  2. Design + BIM
  3. Delivery
  4. Financial planning + tracking
  5. Transition to operations
  6. Safety

1. AI in construction improves the bidding process

AI can parse a request for proposal (RFP), extract the relevant specifications and summarize what the customer is looking for quickly and accurately. It can sort through and rank potential suppliers, taking past performance, capacity, quality and other factors into account. It can automatically draft bid responses.

Bigger picture, AI can play the role of in-house guru/institutional memory bank, tapping into hundreds or thousands of a construction firm’s past projects to inform new bids.

That’s all the more important given that gurus retire or move on. Historically, their knowledge departed with them. With AI, it’s all accessible down to the fine-grained details — and immortal.

In addition, generative AI copilots can answer questions and make recommendations as bids take shape. They can also estimate the sequencing, volume and pricing of materials, labor and equipment, including that of subcontractors. Finally, AI can translate winning bids into draft project plans.

2. Better design & BIM with AI

AI is already able to turn pencil sketches into multiple, workable building-façade design options. By supercharging building information modelling (BIM), AI can be much more than skin-deep. Its algorithms can quickly assess design data and optimize layouts while taking into account cost, schedule deadlines, space utilization, energy efficiency and sustainability considerations ranging from sun angles to building materials.

Architects and engineers can then select, adapt and augment designs based on multiple plausible options. As the design progresses, AI can spot conflicts while they’re still correctable in bits and bytes. With BIM integration into back-end enterprise resource planning (ERP) and finance systems, construction companies can price different design options as they take shape.

Further, an AI-assisted project design is a meticulously documented design that, as the project moves forward, enables the quick classification and prioritization of claims and requests for information (RFIs), saving time and money and avoiding delayed payments.

3. Delivery: AI keeps projects on track

During the build phase, AI can analyze and learn from diverse, ever-changing data sources to help project leaders adhere to budgets, timelines, sustainability targets and overall quality. AI adjusts work schedules in real time, recalibrating dependent tasks automatically when contingencies such as bad weather, supply chain disruption, equipment failure and scope changes arise.

AI in construction can parse complex specifications and create spec sections and submittal registries by trade and work package. AI-driven planning modules can help superintendents and trade foremen identify critical construction tasks in two-, four- and six-week look-ahead schedules.

Generative AI copilots also play a role in delivery, providing real-time guidance and answering natural-language queries, offering suggestions and walking through instructions for complex tasks.

Turning AI’s attention to jobsite drone and fixed-camera data will soon enable auto-generated updates of progress for work packages and trades. What’s more, the automated reconciliation of actual progress with BIM models can catch deviations from design early.

AI also helps when things don’t go to plan, analyzing and categorizing incoming claims and then assigning mitigation action. That boosts accuracy, efficiency and the speed of claims processing for faster payments and improved cash flow.

4. Financial planning & tracking in real-time

AI connects finance to field in real time. A project manager can say, “For the scope of my project, create a cost breakdown structure (CBS) and work breakdown structure (WBS),” and, in seconds, AI delivers a project’s CBS and WBS with key performance indicator dashboards based on current status.

Additionally, AI is streamlining and automating repetitive back-office processes such as invoice processing, document information extraction and supplier identification. As an example, AI can automate more than 90% of invoice matching, sparing project managers that effort.

And AI’s embedding in cloud-based ERP finance systems is poised to improve financial functions, including payments; expense management; forecasting, budgeting and planning; receivables management; and financial close.

5. Automating the transition to operations

When construction is complete, AI automates the organization, verification and storage of project documentation such as as-built drawings, manuals and records.

It identifies and prioritizes punch-list items by analyzing data from inspections, project reports and other sources, speeding up handover. During commissioning, it analyzes data and identifies potential issues so they’re addressed quickly.

AI can also make life easier for the new occupants by optimizing maintenance schedules based on service requirements, equipment use and costs, and minimizing downtime, among other benefits.

6. Increased construction safety 

Despite being No. 6 on this list, it’s always safety-first in the construction business. Integrating AI with cameras, wearables, drones, machinery and smart sensors can reduce accidents and create a more secure jobsite.

AI-powered image analysis can confirm that a worker’s ID jibes with facial-recognition results, ensuring tight access control. Those same cameras can make sure workers are wearing the proper safety equipment.

On the jobsite, AI, combined with computer vision and smart sensors, can monitor the movement of workers, materials and heavy equipment, alerting stakeholders and workers to dangerous situations before accidents happen.

AI in construction: Where to start?

AI is shaping up to be a powerful tool in helping the construction industry address its most persistent challenges in a variety of ways.

For many — particularly smaller construction firms — it’s important to exploit the growing AI capabilities being built into existing ERP and other solutions. Larger construction businesses have the advantage of harvesting insights from proprietary internal data sources, and industry leaders are bringing in analysts to understand what data, structured and unstructured, can be exploited for the betterment of the business.

For construction firms large and small, the vital question to ask in these early days of AI is how your data, combined with AI, can most help your business. Because you need to harness your data before AI can harvest the fruits of it.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs):

BIM stands for Building Information Modeling. It is an intelligent, 3D model-based tool that provides architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals with a digital representation of a facility’s physical and functional characteristics. This enables more efficient planning, designing, constructing, and managing of buildings and infrastructure. BIM uses a cloud platform to integrate multi-disciplinary data, supporting collaboration, and informed decision-making across different phases of a project.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in Construction Business Owner and is republished here with permission.

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