AI in construction is a hot topic – so why the chilly reception?


AI can become a powerful tool in helping the construction sector,”proptech writer, Angelica Krystle Donati.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the construction industry is a hot topic – and yet the rate of adoption among companies simply isn’t scaling with the trend itself.  

The reasons why exactly aren’t entirely clear but human obsolescence is unlikely the main factor.  

Construction is one of the largest industries in the UK, if not the world, representing about 7% of UK GDP and an output of more than £110 billion per annum.  

However, it is also painfully slow at enhanced technology adoption and implementation. But being the oldest and biggest industry doesn’t necessarily mean you have the luxury of time.  

Interestingly, online mentions of AI have risen by around 77% since last year, around the time of the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November, according to Bloomberg 

And while around 37% of companies from various sectors were shown to be using AI for a variety of purposes in 2019, a recent investment boom means this figure is certain to rise in the future, said proptech investor and construction expert, Angelica Krystle Donati. 

“The question is, then, how does an industry such as construction, which is notoriously slow to implement new technologies, adapt to and embrace AI, and is it worthwhile?” said Donati. 

Let’s find out… 

Health & Safety 

As projects become more complex, Health & Safety (H&S) challenges will also increase, said Donati. 

Risks from hazards or unsafe practices can be reduced and even averted through AI adoption.  

But it isn’t just avoiding workplace injury.  

Manual tasks such as maintenance and inspections can be automated, enabling operatives to focus on higher-value aspects.  

“To fulfil today’s needs, construction safety must improve and evolve by employing the latest breakthroughs in technology,” said Donati. 

Efficiency and productivity 

Last year it was revealed that while about 60% of firms across various sectors use multiple software platforms for day-to-day operations, less than 40% automate those procedures to boost efficiencies. 

Construction projects often require handling massive amounts of data, to meet delivery and financial targets.  

However, the industry is failing to implement automation effectively, routinely relying instead on manual processes.  

The results are project inefficiencies, diminished productivity, higher costs, and missed deadlines. 

“In severe instances, [this] may even lead to fines for contractual noncompliance,” said Donati. 

Automation via AI-based technology, such as Augmented Reality (AR), drones and robotics can optimise in the following areas: 

  • Estimating 
  • Scheduling 
  • Budgeting 
  • Resource management 
  • Project reporting 

For example, drones can survey a site, while AR can provide operatives with detailed plans to tackle tasks. 

Mounting pressures  

Firms have faced, and continue to face, a range of challenges to remain competitive – from inflationary pressures, to rising insolvencies and materials costs, to economic slowdown.  

But another is labour availability, which is now the “most concerning risk factor” within the construction sector, according to cost management consultant, Currie & Brown 

225,000 extra construction workers are needed in the UK by 2027, according to the Construction Skills Network.   

And the skills shortage is now said to pose a bigger threat to the industry than materials costs. 

Further, wage costs are soaring in mature economies due to the skills shortage, alongside building expenses which are expected to rise this year, according to Atradius. 

Added to that are net-zero targets, as renewable energy and green infrastructure are expected to see greater investment. 

Donati urges AI adoption in the design process, including BIM and Digital Twin technologies, to monitor and manage: 

  • Energy consumption 
  • Materials costs and reuse  
  • Waste and recycling  
  • Resource allocation  
  • Project learning 

“AI can contribute to this change by improving the design process,” said Donati. “It can be used to generate optimal designs that are both efficient and cost-effective; it can analyse data from previous projects and create a design that is tailored to the specific needs of a project. This improved design process can result in buildings and infrastructure that use less energy and materials, thus with a lower cost base.  

“AI can become a powerful tool in helping the construction sector work towards a greener future. By improving the design process, monitoring energy consumption, and reducing waste, construction companies can reduce costs and improve their environmental footprint.” 

Ms Donati writes about proptech and innovation in construction, and is CEO of Donati Immobiliare Group. 

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