McKinsey claims the construction industry is under-digitised, which is alarming given the sector is expected to be worth $8 trillion by 2030.

Construction lags behind other industries in the race to adopt technologies, with companies failing to realise the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) as a driver of exponential growth and efficiency.

In this article, Actavo Direct’s James Hepton looks at the first steps for AI in construction and how businesses can adopt the technology to cut costs, save time and race ahead of the competition.

Limitless learning

A key facet of AI is machine learning – the ability of technology to continuously learn from limitless amounts of data. All the data fed into an AI programme is used to and create patterns and algorithms, which can be used to suggest improvements for future projects.

Companies set to gain the greatest benefit from AI will be those that take the time to feed in the most amount of information possible. No amount of information’s too much and while some data may not seem relevant now, it may well help shape strategy and drive decisions in future.

In construction, this may include all details on stock levels needed to complete previous projects, the number of employees deployed on each project, calendar and schedule information, and any other information that may impact projects, like weather forecasts.

Using this data to inform future projects means businesses save time and money as a result of greater efficiency and less waste. Timings are accurate, projects are appropriately staffed material stock is based on previous, similar projects.

Off-site, AI already has applications in daily activities like spam email detection, keeping businesses protected online in a growing threat landscape.

However, benefits extended beyond just business benefits and profit margins, with implications for employees day-to-day on-site and in the office.

AI has made live video and image detection possible, with which AI platforms can be taught to identify potential hazards on site and alert employees in real-time to any occupational hazards.

Design innovation

Traditionally, construction design meant paper and pencil drafts and painstaking hours covering every angle and detail for each project.

Building information modelling (BIM) has since revolutionised the design stage, combining walkable 3D designs with intricate detailing and built-in project management capabilities to provide a single comprehensive database, available for everyone across the whole project to work from.

On top of a 3D site and building map, all project details can be woven into the design, including financial information and planning details. BIM even provides scope for mechanical, electrical and plumbing work to be theorised in the design stage, saving time and cutting costs in wasted material and rescheduled work in the building stage.

Businesses can also reap the rewards of greener projects thanks to BIM. With projects being meticulously detailed on a digital plan, they now save on paper traditionally used in sketch designs and, more significantly, the materials wasted or overestimated in the planning and building stages.

The reality of AI

Far from the robots we see in Hollywood movies, the robotic reality of AI is somewhat less dramatic, but the implications are becoming more relevant every day in construction.

Self-operating and self-driving construction machinery are already paving the way in terms of efficient industry tech, taking manual and repetitive tasks like excavation away from employees and allowing them to focus efforts on more complex management and planning tasks.

The anticipated realisation of 5G network infrastructure on a mass scale will pave the way for development in construction technology, facilitating the development of AI-operated construction machinery like remote machine operation.

Construction companies will be able to harness the speed and stability of a 5G network to operate excavation tools and other construction machines from thousands of kilometres away.

This offers time and cost savings for companies who can perform tasks on multiple sites from one remote location, plus health and safety benefits for employees who don’t have to physically enter sites.

E-commerce advantages

As the construction industry continues to undergo digital transformation, so will its sales and marketing activity, as businesses move to meet their customers at their common touchpoints.

Those able to adopt AI as a tool for improving their online service offering – for example, offering tailored product suggestions to customers based on search history and previous behaviours – will move ahead of the competition to win business.

Machine learning allows companies to log customer data, like key purchasing times, products regularly bought together and more, helping businesses shape their sales and marketing activity.

It gives businesses a greater understanding of their customers’ needs at each stage of the buying journey, so they can align their promotional activity. For example, creating informative content to meet people in the early stages of researching construction companies, or recommending products or service packages to those ready to convert on a website.