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Using technology to drive efficiency in construction

 |  Updated on Oct 05 2022
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The construction industry is one of the largest and fastest-growing sectors on the planet. Currently accounting for 13% of Global GDP with revenue projected to double, reaching $15 trillion by 2032, but that wave of progress is being obscured by old practices and processes.

It therefore is abundantly clear that new technology like artificial intelligence has an unprecedented opportunity to reinvent the way things are built around the world.

The business environment is changing rapidly and the modern construction site needs to keep pace. Providing progress updates from your tablet or PC by utilising AI and machine learning tools to reduce the need to physically attend sites and manually prepare reports, manage trades/suppliers and administer contracts is a pathway to greater efficiency. But the most important aspect of this digital transformation is the effect it has on the workforce. From the boots on ground to the executives at the top, AI data and machine learning will transform the way the skylines of the world are created and irrevocably impact the lives of those who build them.

Data and the things you can do with it

Construction sites are littered with key data just waiting to be harnessed. These pieces of data combine to enable a global view of building processes and give stakeholders the power to streamline both development and construction processes and allow decisions to be made without the need to be physically on deck. Take for example the use of sensors on a construction site, AI and machine learning can interpret images from those sensors and then make decisions based on the data presented, as if a skilled operative was keeping an eye on things 24/7. So, like all construction activity if the planned events change or are delayed the system will automatically update affected subcontractors and suppliers optimising the activities ahead to mitigate the delay.

The key to AI and machine learning on the modern construction site is bringing automation to a manual world. This data processing is also key to remotely sharing information between key project stakeholders. Imagine being able to update the entire field of stakeholders automatically with up-to-the-minute accuracy directly from the construction site. These updates deliver an accurate forecast of completion, as well as become the evidenced based record for any delays so as to influence strategy pivots used to keep projects on track.

When AI is coupled with machine learning, the partnership results in the forging of patterns in large amounts of data. These patterns are being created on construction sites each and every day and are underutilised – or omitted entirely. The patterns found within data can be used to keep those milestones on track while also predicting key deliveries of upcoming project milestones, removing mundane administration activities like compiling delay reports or taking photos to document progress or as a critical part to quality control.

“The key to AI and machine learning… is bringing automation to a manual world.”

AI and the things humans can do with it

An industry like construction – that has seen little change in its processes in recent decades – comes up against age barriers including distrust and confusion surrounding new technology. The generational gap can be impossible to bridge as this aging group of industry professionals have experience that is both a benefit and a hindrance to the future of building.

According to CSIRO’s 2018 Digital Innovation Report, digital transformation has the power to deliver $315 billion in gross economic value to Australia alone over the next decade. In fact World Economic Forum reports that this kind of digital transformation could mean a potential value opportunity of as much $100 trillion globally by 2025. According to the CSIRO report, the next wave of digital innovation will be driven by technologies that collect, manage, analyse and utilise large amounts of data. These big data technologies are set to evolve a wide range of niches – much like personal computers and the internet have transformed the retail, information, and media sectors over the last 20 years.

From the executive level, this means AI and machine learning enable more productivity in less time from a workforce that isn’t over-worked and is able to facilitate a remote management enabled site. Many of the pain points of the construction industry center around razor-thin margins and increasingly short deadlines; being able to give back time during the work week by enabling software solutions such as automatic data collection or pattern finding allows projects to be efficiently managed. That means the typical boots-onthe- ground staff can make it home in time for dinner. When these resources are managed effectively, construction cycles become much more consistent which translates to improved safety for clients and workforce, efficiency for projects and a healthier bottom line. According to CSIRO, by 2034, nearly 20 per cent of Australians (6.2 million people) will be 65 or over. While in the US that number is expected to reach 78 million by 2035.

“By 2034, nearly 20 percent of Australians will be 65 or over.”

This represents an obvious shift in the workforce, both on the construction site and more broadly, requiring that the physically demanding aspects of building be mitigated. Enabling an aging or more traditional workforce to embrace AI and machine learning is key to digital transformation. As the rigors of construction take their toll on an aging generation, it also impacts the progress of an industry that is projected to gain momentum across the world. No longer can quick fixes be relied upon on the build site, as projects continue to get bigger and more complex.

Embracing this new tech is also key to inspiring the next generation to join the construction industry. Drones and high-tech sensors capture the vast amount of data a site generates. This data enables superior knowledge and in construction – like most industries – knowledge is power. Companies established to leverage the power of tech will be positioned to attract top talent that can be assured technology is being used effectively to help build faster and smarter. It is the silver bullet the construction industry has been waiting for. AI is designed to enhance the human workforce, not replace them. “Work smarter, not harder” is a mantra held throughout the building industry with the use of AI. To build in the future will require an adoption of these streamlined processes, powered by new tech in pursuit of increased profitability and a happier more productive workforce.

“Companies established to leverage the power of tech will be positioned to attract top talent that can be assured technology is being used effectively to help build faster and smarter.”

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