(This column originally appeared in Forbes)
If you’re running a construction business or team you want to be up to speed on the software and hardware that’s leveraging the latest Artificial Intelligence tools so that you can leverage these features to get work done faster, cheaper and with greater accuracy. Over the next few years there will be a proliferation of technologies that will be using AI to disrupt the construction industry. But there are plenty of great tools available right now to consider. Here are a few.
Project management software applications are now using AI for the following purposes:
-automatically assigning tasks based on roles and availability;
-creating and optimizing new projects based on prior projects;
-tracking actual vs. budgeted expenditures with alerts and suggestions;
-forecasting completions based on prior projects, milestones, timelines and activities;
-automatically communicating and responding to both team members and clients;
-identifying anomalies in project progress compared to similar projects;
-providing real-time internal and external analytics.
Training and Remote Management
Virtual and augmented reality headsets are now being deployed with AI capabilities on construction sites and in the office to enable:
-training for new workers in a controlled and safe environment;
-identification of safety issues;
-recording of project process for further analysis;
-visual confirmation of projects for offsite team members;
-on-demand review of designs and plans.
Surveying and Inspections
Companies using drones, mobile devices and autonomous vehicles are providing their products to construction customers that use AI to:
-conduct visual pre-surveys of project sites;
-analyze site conditions;
-monitor project progress;
-track worker safety;
-patrol physical spaces and then create models;
-take images of physical spaces to calculate distances and volumes.
On-site worker support
AI technology is now being used to power robots that are already performing some of the basic tasks that workers perform such as:
-welding materials and removing waste such as nails and other materials from scrap materials;
-lifting and moving objects around a job site;
-autonomously transporting materials;
-monitoring sites for safety issues.
New CAD/CAM software products are using AI to:
-create and model new designs based on prior or similar projects;
-suggest design enhancements;
-identify potential design flaws and structural issues;
-perform predictive modelling based on a designer’s instructions;
-suggest energy savings;
-analyze historical project data and simulate different scenarios;
-optimize resource allocation;
-assist in generating 3D models;
To do an estimate it’s common to have drawings, plans or photos of the potential site. Estimating tools that are now leveraging AI to read those documents and files in order to:
-identify spaces, sizes at a location;
-calculate dimensions, weights and other measurements;
-compare prior and current plans for differences;
-identify potential problem areas;
-automatically pull in products from prior purchases to determine costs;
-suggest labor hours and materials required;
-create draft estimates for review.
The blunt truth: these products are expensive.
They will require a significant amount of time, resources and dollars to truly use them the right way. Many that I’ve included above are likely out of the wheelhouse for many small and mid-sized construction firms.
Project management applications take time to implement. Virtual reality headsets need programming. Surveying and inspection technologies also require programming as well as equipment maintenance and replacement costs. Robots, while coming down in cost, are still a big company thing and are far from perfect. Building design software requires a certain leap of faith and much validation. Estimators need training and support to properly use the AI features in their software.
Their AI capabilities are still in their infancy. Justifying the return-on-investment may be difficult. Just like all those miraculous mobile apps that appeared after the iPhone was introduced, it’s a guarantee that some of these products will die on the vine, as will the companies behind them.
But…it’s still exciting. Now that the cost of storage, processing and cloud computing has decreased so much the door is open for a new wave of AI-based technology that will change the way construction firms do business in just the next few years. Those mentioned above are ahead of the pack and worth a look.
If you’re running a construction company it’s important that you stay on top of these technologies. As they mature you’ll find their use of AI will help you increase productivity, reduce overhead and grow profits. And I’m betting your competitors will be doing the same.