AI in construction: what’s next?

The construction industry is on the rise, with global worth expected to reach $12.9 trillion in the next three years. However, it’s an industry that’s unusually under-digitised in 2019.

The potential for growth driven by artificial intelligence (AI) in construction is exponential, but many businesses are still afraid to take the first steps – instead, relying on outdated pen and paper methods.

So, how can an industry that has been lagging behind others, speed up in the race to adopt AI?

Actavo Direct’s James Hepton explains…

A new model

3D modelling revolutionised the construction industry, transforming painstaking pencil sketches into ‘walkable’ plans. Digital designs could now be shared and printed, reducing the workload and allowing all angles and details to be incorporated into one comprehensive design.

Now, we’re in the midst of another revolution, with business information modelling (BIM) changing the way company owners, construction managers, finance executives and more are able to manage projects.

BIM builds on the concept of 3D modelling, adding in data management to provide a single platform that stores and displays all project information in one accessible database.

Projects are brought to life in 4D, allowing users to ‘walk through’ building designs, with all comments, financial data and more displayed alongside each concept.

Now, thanks to machine learning, plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems can be conceptualised in 3D too, speeding up the design process and saving time and money in the building stage. The BIM industry is already estimated to be worth over $10 billion, with more construction business owners recognising the potential of the software as a driver of efficiency and financial savings, plus the reputational benefits of ensuring greener processes with less material waste.

Always learning

AI is constantly learning, and the more data fed into machine learning tools, the more effective the results. For construction businesses this could mean providing information on weather and stock levels to help with planning future projects, using learnings to avoid disruption or delays.

Machine learning is mostly done through trial and error, so logging every bit of project data you can will help improve future jobs. All aspects of construction projects – from pre-construction,

excavation and scaffolding, to building and post-construction – can be analysed and assessed, so only the most efficient and economical processes are retained for future projects.

A future realisation of AI is a database which answers questions based on learned data, speeding up the project planning phase by recommending proven steps based on project information you input.

Productive potential

AI is set to change the face of construction as we know it. Industry employees will see responsibilities shift as AI plays a larger role in daily tasks, and this will be heavily driven by the introduction of self-driving and operating machinery.

Self-operating machinery will mean reduced project time and labour costs, with construction workers able to focus more on project management tasks. Self-operating diggers are already in production, able to perform excavation tasks effortlessly and autonomously.

The emergence of a powerful 5G network will be a driving force, unlocking the full potential of AI. In addition to fully automated digging tools, 5G will facilitate remote operation of other difficult tasks, as they continue to develop and become more complex.

For example, by using the 5G platform, one remote operator will be able to work on multiple sites, from one single remote base thousands of kilometres away. This isn’t just possible cross-country either, with the ability to control machinery below ground, too.

The future is safe

The benefits of AI extend beyond business profits, with safety benefits improving daily working conditions for those on the front line.

Health and safety in construction is traditionally a manual task, with each employee ensuring correct procedures and equipment is available for each task. With AI, the responsibility of maintaining a safe site can be shared thanks to video technology and machine learning.

Live video with machine learning means hazards can be detected in real time by their shape, alerting employees to possible danger. Plus, as machine learning provides advice based on data, any previous risks will create a basis for future safety warnings.

A customer service win

As more businesses move their sales and marketing activity online, they’ll be able to experience the full potential of AI as a platform for improving their e-commerce service offerings.

Using large banks of data, AI can help transform everyday consumer queries into a comprehensive algorithm which provides the foundation for a 24/7 customer service chatbot or FAQ service.

Sales data also gives machine learning tools an insight into customer behaviours, like periods of high traffic or high sales and products that are typically bought together. AI tools can then use this data to recommend more highly targeted marketing campaigns, delivered at the right time to meet demand.

Plus, learning about buying habits means you can recommend products to potential buyers to complement their online baskets – a win-win for both consumers and businesses.

About the Author

James Hepton, Head of e-Commerce & Marketing at Actavo Direct. James has worked in the ecommerce industry for 15 years and has a wide range of tech experience across a variety of sectors. He currently works at Actavo heading up ecommerce and Marketing for its Hire and Sales division.