Could AI make the construction industry better?

AI and related technologies might destroy (a few) jobs in the future but in the short term, they'll make the industry more productive and efficient.
26 September 2018

How technology is transforming constructuon. Source: Shutterstock

The construction industry is one that doesn’t immediately seem to be something that will be impacted by automation, but believe it or not, it is.

In fact, compared to a lot of sectors, construction is one industry where artificial intelligence (AI) and related technologies such as drones, robots, and autonomous vehicles will make the biggest impact — and quite soon.

According to a recent PwC study, by the early 2020s, 2 percent of construction jobs will be impacted by AI and related technologies, but that figure quickly climbs to 16% by the late 2020s, climbing rapidly to 39 percent by the mid 2030s.

However, the fact is, AI will also create new kinds of jobs within the construction industry and make work safer and better. It’s something that businesses are slowing beginning to explore.

A recent report published by MarketsandMarkets said that the AI in construction market will grow from US$407.2 million in 2018 to US$1.83 billion by 2023, a 450 percent total growth or 35 percent annual growth over the period.

Truth be told, in the near term, instead of cutting labor costs, companies are more likely to deploy AI to raise productivity and complete projects on time.

A McKinsey report found that if construction-sector productivity were to catch up with that of the total economy—and it can — it would boost the sector’s value added by an estimated US$1.6 trillion. One-third of the opportunity is in the United States, it said.

Here are some ways in which AI can help the construction industry:

# 1 | Construction planning

Autonomous equipment could be used to survey a construction site and create 3D maps and blueprints.

Doing so can not only make it easier and quicker for engineers to understand the construction requirements but also make it significantly easier to draft construction plans.

Further, using AI-powered software, it’s easy to create several permutations and combinations and understand how different scenarios will play out — helping ensure that the construction plan is robust and takes into account weather forecasts, specifications of the materials being used, and so on.

Previously, this phase could take weeks. However, with AI and related technologies, it’s possible to plan quickly and effectively, perhaps in less than half the time.

# 2 | Site and workforce administration

Come to think of it, there are a lot of variables in the business of construction. Weather aside, there are several things that workers and civil engineers learn about only when they’re on the site.

Using AI, it becomes easier to predict variations and plan for contingencies — boosting productivity and efficiency manifold.

AI is especially helpful for site and workforce administration when the foundations of a new construction project are being laid — removing the soil, gauging the depth, placing the reinforced steel and laying the concrete.

This phase precedes the development of the superstructure and is often where things go off-plan — unless you use AI to track several factors and keep them in check.

# 3 | Construction methodology

When creating the superstructure and the facade of the building, construction projects can be delayed due to poor weather. It’s where efficiency takes a big hit — especially because of challenges related to manpower.

However, using autonomous cranes and tools, laying the superstructure can be a quick job. Drones fitted with video cameras can help capture footage from various angles and using AI and machine learning (ML), engineers can keep a check on quality.

AI-powered software can help understand how to build the facade, suggest the best time to add the glass and other materials to envelope the building, and help determine how to arrange and prioritize various tasks in this phase — many of which can be performed simultaneously — in order to minimize the time spent on the project without compromising on quality.