Artificial intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic in many industries lately. From the arguments over the benefits of (and possible downsides of) ChatGPT to how AI is helping in the medical field, there are few areas of life left untouched by the technological advancement of AI.
The construction industry is full of time-tested processes and age-old industry knowledge that has worked for generations to build our roads, our homes, our workplaces, and the infrastructure on which we all rely. However surprising it may be in an age-old industry, technological advancements are moving at a rapid pace. In a 2022 study, 92% of construction industry leaders said they were planning to integrate AI in some manner in their processes.
The blanket term “AI” describes the process of machine learning. It is not a new concept, having first emerged in the 1950s, but the capabilities of AI have grown exponentially in the past few years. Now the idea of AI encompasses such incredible tech feats as chatbots, self-driving cars, and robotics. There seems to be no limits to what AI can accomplish, and it is taking the construction industry to new heights.
Before a hole is dug or a wall is assembled, there are many tasks that need to be completed in the preconstruction phase. This includes planning, logistics, hiring crew, and the design phase. During the conception phase, AI can be used to calculate whether a project is a good risk or how well a certain location may work in a city. Before millions are spent on big projects, project leaders can run risk assessments to ensure it is money well spent.
The design phase of construction has been influenced by technological advancements for some time, likely ever since AutoCAD broke onto the scene in 1982. AI can help with the design phase of construction in many ways. Designs can be analyzed to pinpoint any mistakes in design or anything overlooked in terms of safety or compliance. Energy efficiency can also be analyzed. New advancements in algorithms can create design ideas with a few clicks of a button, which can allow creative designers to visualize what a new project will look like upon completion — perhaps even suggesting design elements they may have never thought of before.
In the preconstruction phase, there can be mounds of paperwork required, from regulation and compliance documents to financing. AI can help construction management and leaders process spreadsheets, financial calculations, and all the paperwork necessary to get the project started — saving time and money.
AI can even be used in the hiring and team building phase of preconstruction. Machine learning has allowed human resource professionals to sort through many applicants to find the best fit for a particular job. Job training can even be enhanced with AI through interactive training modules and continuing education. Through these advancements, some of the most time consuming elements of the preconstruction phase can be quickly accomplished, and with better efficiency and accuracy than before.
The construction phase
During the construction phase, AI can be utilized every step of the way. Safety is a significant factor in construction. Technologies like robotics — which can accomplish some of the more dangerous tasks previously performed by humans — can help reduce worksite accidents. AI can also be used as a monitoring tool. By quickly analyzing compliance and safety regulation documents, AI can perform lightning-fast analysis of how safe a project site may be and where the potential risks lie.
Robotics have greatly improved in the past few decades. Now, it is possible to expedite the construction process with robotic welding, 3D printing capabilities, and even construction site surveillance when the workers are off the clock. Throughout the active construction phase, project managers are handling many logistical tasks that can also be aided by AI. Quality control and personnel management are just a few examples of project management tasks that AI can assist with, freeing project managers to have more boots-on-the-ground interaction with the project.
AI can even assist from a marketing and public relations standpoint. Some larger projects often face a litany of opinions, from people who live in the area, to workers who want information about safety and feasibility, to project leaders who have their eye on the bottom line. With highly intelligent AI programs such as ChatGPT, talking points can be organized, potential issues can be analyzed, and different groups can be properly addressed and have their questions resolved.
The post-construction phase
After the construction project is complete, the role of AI continues. AI can analyze the completed project to ensure compliance, safety standards, and quality standards are met. Simulations of the building project can help project managers pinpoint where things may need to be improved without the need for a physical “fine tooth comb” evaluation on-site. After the project is being utilized for its intended purpose, AI analysis can continue to crunch numbers and determine if the full potential of the project is being realized.
The future role of AI in construction
One of the biggest fears people have as AI rises to prominence is the threat to human jobs. With AI capable of accomplishing so much, it begs the question “what will the human role be going forward?” However, even with as intuitive as AI has become, it cannot replace the full capabilities of the human mind.
The construction industry relies on know-how, nuance, and creativity to continue to flourish. It also heavily relies on human judgment, born from hands-on experience. While AI will certainly shift some construction roles in the future, it also opens up a world of possibilities for roles for tech savvy individuals who may have not considered entering the construction trades in the past.
The AI market is expected to reach $407 billion by 2027. In recent studies, 64% of businesses believe AI will increase productivity within their industry, and a quarter of companies are already adopting AI processes, many due to industry labor shortages. AI is here to stay, clearly. By learning what the technology can add to the construction industry, we can be prepared for the pivot to come towards a more AI-centered landscape.
Matt DiBara is a fourth-generation mason of DiBara Masonry and the co-founder of The Undercover Contractor. He’s known as the ‘undercover contractor,’ who works with celebrity clients and everyday homeowners to provide advice and insight about managing construction projects.