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How Artificial Intelligence Is Applied in the Construction Industry

contruction worker on site with a laptop
contruction worker on site with a laptop

How Artificial Intelligence Is Applied in the Construction Industry

Information and news on the construction sectorHow Artificial Intelligence Is Applied in the Construction Industry

Artificial intelligence (AI) has swiftly established its foothold across various industries, revolutionising traditional practices and streamlining processes. In the construction sector, AI's integration marks a significant shift in how projects are executed and managed. From enhancing safety protocols to optimising project planning, AI technology offers a myriad of solutions that redefine efficiency and effectiveness in construction endeavours.

In this article, we delve into the multifaceted applications of AI within the construction industry, unraveling its transformative potential and showcasing real-world examples of its implementation.

How Artificial Intelligence Is Used in the Construction Industry

contruction worker on site with a laptop 

What is AI Technology?

For those new to artificial intelligence, let's start by exploring its core concepts. We'll cover what AI entails and differentiate between deep learning and machine learning, two pivotal aspects of this groundbreaking technology.

For its part, artificial intelligence is technology that enables machines to mimic human-like thinking and learning processes, allowing them to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence or intervention. For example, think of generative AI programs like OpenAI's ChatGPT.

Machine learning, on the other hand, is a subset of AI that involves teaching computers to learn from data and improve their performance on a task over time without being explicitly programmed. For example, imagine teaching a computer to recognise different types of fruits. You might give it data on various fruits with features like colour, size, and texture. Using this information, the computer learns to classify new fruits based on similarities to the ones it was trained on.

Deep learning, a sub-discipline of machine learning, extracts features from large, unlabeled and unstructured data sets automatically. Taking the previous example, rather than telling it what features to look for in fruits, deep learning will look through a massive amount of fruit pictures to figure out the distinguishing features on its own and categorise them accordingly. 

AI's Applications in the Construction Sector

Using AI for Site Safety

No matter the construction project or work site, the number one priority is always safety. As it turns out, AI can be utilised in helping achieve this goal.

Cameras with motion detectors are typically the go-to option for securing a site at night, sometimes triggering an alarm if someone or something is detected. However, you probably don't need to be warned that a bird or raccoon is frolicking around; only when it's an unauthorised person. 

AI systems, however, can monitor the cameras and recognise both people and situations and, from there, alert the authorities, site managers, etc.

It goes even further than that. AI-powered computer vision can even analyse incidents of tripping and falling, safety hazards, and unsafe practices like a worker not wearing their protective gear. This aids leadership in implementing better safety measures and ensuring compliance with safety protocols.

How AI is Used in Project Planning, Management, and Estimating

When it comes to project planning and management, AI emerges as a powerful tool, leveraging its capacity to process vast amounts of data swiftly and effectively. Through the implementation of deep artificial neural networks (computer systems designed to mimic the way our brains process information, allowing them to learn from data and engage in decision-making), AI systems are capable of generating highly accurate project budgets and timelines by assimilating insights derived from extensive datasets. 

By analysing historical project data encompassing material costs, inflation rates, and labour expenses, AI can forecast future project budgets and schedules with remarkable precision. Unlike human planners, AI surpasses traditional methods by simulating various project scenarios, anticipating potential challenges such as change orders, delays, or supply disruptions. By integrating these insights into project budgets, AI empowers construction teams to mitigate hidden costs and prevent overruns, thereby enhancing project efficiency and success. 

Furthermore, AI's utilisation of neural networks enables it to monitor and classify the progress of different project stages, offering proactive management akin to a virtual project manager, capable of identifying and addressing potential issues early on.

Proactive Maintenance

The construction industry is not all about building new things, but repairing, replacing, and maintaining existing systems as well. Proactive maintenance, then, is crucial in ensuring the seamless operation of equipment like cranes and generators and vital building systems like electrical and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning).

In this regard, AI-powered proactive maintenance offers a state-of-the-art solution to the struggles of properly predicting when maintenance will be needed. Unlike traditional scheduled maintenance, AI utilises sensor data and equipment performance metrics to pinpoint the optimal time for servicing, ultimately addressing productivity issues.

Streamlining Construction Processes

A lot of work that happens in the construction industry is done without a tool in hand or riding a piece of heavy machinery, but behind-the-scenes. More often than not, these tasks are rather monotonous. That's where, as you guessed it, artificial intelligence comes into play.

AI empowers behind-the-scenes automations, making jobs easier and automating repetitive tasks. For instance, programs like Autodesk Build can auto-detect title blocks, sheet names, and numbers, reducing the effort required for categorising drawings. Additionally, AI controls automated machinery and processes, ensuring efficiency by assigning workers to tasks they excel at while managing the rest autonomously. It also gathers and relays information to human operators, enabling remote oversight and facilitating proactive intervention when needed. 

Moreover, AI simplifies navigating complex building codes and permits, saving time and ensuring regulatory compliance. With AI-based tools, tasks like analysing project requirements and processing construction documents are automated through natural language processing (NLP), further enhancing efficiency and reducing manual effort.

Building Information Modeling (BIM)

BIM, or Building Information Modeling/Management, makes collaboration much easier amongst architects, engineers, developers, and contractors to plan, design, and construct buildings within a unified 3D model. In it, these parties can see all of a building's components, from its doors and windows, to air ducts and plumbing.

 It extends to building operation and management, making data accessible to owners. This enables informed decision-making by governments, municipalities, and property managers, even post-construction.

When intergrating AI, BIM can generate multiple versions of the same building to find the optimal solution among different designs, some of which may be conflicting. For example, it could present various design options and analyse them to find a balanced solution that meets key requirements and minimises conflicts or inefficiencies by adjusting elements like room sizes, building heights, or window placements.

Furthermore, this AI-powered BIM tool also encompasses proactive maintenance by determining where and when problems will occur.

How Can AI Help in the Canadian Construction Setting?

contruction worker on site with a laptop 

So, how does all of this apply to Canada and its construction industry? Well, consider that without AI being used in all of the aforementioned examples, it's solely up to a human or humans to complete the tasks. While this may not have been an issue decades ago, Canada's ongoing skilled labour shortage pushes artificial intelligence to the forefront of viable options to address it.

How? Well, AI-enabled computational design, for instance, revolutionises construction processes by minimising human error and rework through real-time conflict detection and issue identification, ultimately leading to time and labour savings and enhanced project accuracy.

Beyond labour efficiency, automation harnesses generative AI to streamline preconstruction tasks, mitigate errors, and maintain project budgets, addressing the significant global issue of construction rework. 

Additionally, AI-driven scheduling optimises resource allocation and schedule management, enhancing decision-making and project profitability by providing real-time insights and efficient project controls.

While this doesn't directly address Canada's massive labour shortage problem, it does reduce the time and manpower needed to complete tasks, freeing up workers to perform other job-related duties. With a scarcity of labour, maximising efficiency is key.

Its Real-World Applications

If you believe that the proof is in the pudding, here are a few examples of AI being actually used in construction:

  • In Calgary, Trico Homes — a residential construction firm, in partnership with — is employing AI tools, such as advanced scheduling algorithms, to simultaneously optimise resource allocation and vendor coordination across numerous projects. Moreover, AI-driven customer engagement strategies personalise the home-buying experience for potential buyers.

  • The Salesforce Tower in San Francisco utilises AI-powered BIM data analysis to enhance facility management, facilitating real-time monitoring of energy consumption, predictive maintenance for critical systems, and effective space utilisation.

  • In Richmond, British Columbia, UBC structural engineering professor Tony Yang and his team at the Smart Structures Lab have developed new AI-powered construction robots aimed at addressing labour shortages in the construction industry. These robots were demonstrated on Mitchell Island, moving concrete blocks to showcase their potential in expediting construction processes for homes and buildings. The robots utilise 3D maps captured by aerial drones to ensure accurate construction according to plans, while also performing tasks like lifting, moving materials, and monitoring site safety.

If you're looking to read more on AI in the construction industry, check out our articles on the subject:

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Last modified 2024-05-31

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