For decades, the necessary technology tools have been available to generate more and more data, as it relates to various processes in construction such as project management, scheduling, job costing, and more. The challenge is, with the influx of data, in the last few years, it has become more difficult to use that information well.
“It hasn’t been centrally stored and there hasn’t been computing capability, even if the information was centrally stored,” explains Dan Patterson, chief design officer, InEight, www.ineight.com, Scottsdale, Ariz. “That information is very loosely structured; it is not a uniform format. It is very difficult for computers to then mine that historical information.”
Enter AI (artificial intelligence), which is a game changer for the construction industry. AI is the data or the intelligence that tells a machine what to do. Building on that, machine learning studies the previous datasets and makes predictions for future datasets.
AI will change the way industries operate. Accenture, www.accenture.com, Dublin, Ireland, even predicts that AI could double annual economic growth rates in 2035 by changing the nature of work and creating a new relationship between man and machine.
Further, AI is estimated to increase labor productivity in businesses by up to 40%, while enabling people to make more efficient use of their time.
In construction, this type of technology can provide an immeasurable amount of benefit. InEight, for one, sees a huge opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence, explains Brad Barth, chief product officer, InEight. “It is in its infancy in the construction industry, particularly when it comes to project management and project controls, and we see a huge opportunity to speed up workflows, to scale organizations, and to expand the knowledge that is often trapped in people’s heads. AI, we believe, can do that really well,” he says.
The key for the construction industry will be balancing AI and the human factor or the human intelligence, and helping workers understand that the technology is simply augmenting the human and their experience so that workers can focus on the useful tasks and the more mundane tasks can be left up to the machines. For construction companies just beginning on the journey to leverage artificial intelligence, one of the big focuses should be on standardization.
The environment that AI needs to thrive is this: the more predictable and consistent the environment, the better. “The more disciplined the work process and the coding and the standardization of business process, the better chance AI has to operate on that data because there is more usable history and outcomes that can be measured to help predict future outcomes,” explains Barth.
Further, the benefit of an all-in-one approach means companies can enforce discipline from start to finish. This is where machine learning enters the equation because the more knowledge that can be put into the system, the more value it will provide on future projects.
At the end of the day, it is all about the data and the workflows, according to Vicki Satran, vice president of marketing, Computer Guidance Corp., www.computerguidance.com, Scottsdale, Ariz. “We believe that it is not so much about the software anymore and the applications and the type of platform. It is not so much the conversation of what are the tools. I think the conversation is more around the data. I still believe in that.”
She points to how people interact with data every day, from when they first wake up in the morning and start using their phones. They are doing workflows and process, but they may not even realize it. The key is being able to access, manage, and manipulate the data so users can make decisions quickly.
“We are very interconnected with the Internet of Things, but at the end of the day I think we just want access to information and we want access to very specific information and we want to get things done,” Satran says.
Her recommendation is to focus on construction-specific solutions for the core and to customize software, if needed. But, frankly, it is all about what the process can do for the business and what kind of data can be leveraged.
Going forward, Barth of InEight predicts that we will see the combination of the expanding prevalence of 3D models and the data inside them, coupled with AI and the historical information, which will have an exponential impact on the time it takes to create the initial estimate and the initial schedule. The future is coming. And it is data-centric and it is intelligent. How will your construction company tap into it?
“Manufacturers are keeping us up to date with all the advancements that occur each year, showing us why that by adding their product to ours, will give us an edge over our competition and create the lifestyle experience we are marketing.”
– Michael Neumann, BH3
Construction companies and manufacturers have always worked side-by-side to create great projects; however, with that advent of new technologies, the relationship is progressing in a number of new ways, and contractors and builders need to be prepared for what is coming next. This will offer new opportunities for construction companies to streamline business processes, enabling projects to be completed more efficiently and safely, all while relying on less workers on the crew. Contractors that are able to tap into this will discover new ways it can help benefit their business.
In a recent discussion, Saint-Gobain North America, CEO, Mark Rayfield, Malvern, Pa., www.saint-gobain-northamerica.com, said, manufacturing and construction will merge, and that prefab is a big game changer. “I think there are a lot of good activities that we are involved in and others are involved in and we are starting to push those barriers out a bit. I think that will continue to develop until the market—being how many homes or how much commercial spaces we have to build—makes that a viable option.”
The construction industry is ripe for innovation now too, with productivity somewhat stagnant and the need to build faster and better quality buildings. Integrating technology in each step of the design/build process can provide a number of benefits.
Katerra, www.katerra.com, Menlo Park, Calif., for example, integrates technology at every step of the building process. For example, it is developing sensors for use in the building components it manufacturers to pinpoint damage after earthquakes and allow for repair.
Another example is the KES (Katerra Energy System), which is an integrated energy platform designed to replace the typical electrical closets in multi-family garden-style apartment buildings, hotels, and other building types with single-enclosure appliances. It includes power metering, distribution, and alternative energy integration.
“The system applies artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data processes to determine the best sources to draw from, automatically shifting between power sources to find the most efficient, low-cost options,” says Trevor Schick, head of construction, renovations and supply chain, Katerra.
Other ways technology can help throughout the building process includes deploying RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology to make construction sites more efficient and integrating previously siloed tools.
The Modular Building Institute, www.modular.org, Charlottesville, Va., recently prepared a whitepaper on how modular construction can improve efficiency and productivity, citing how waste, lack of interoperability, and transactional costs of disputes have hindered construction efficiency. Further it points to five opportunities for breakthrough improvements (see chart 1), as determined by the NRC (National Research Council) Committee. One of the areas is greater use of prefabrication, preassembly, modularization, and off-site fabrication techniques and processes.
Paul Jakse, vice president, sales, AeroGo, www.aerogo.com, Seattle, Wash., points to a few key benefits including: streamlined moves with less manhours; increased capacity; increased production; increased flexibility, and maximum space utilization.
Builders are recognizing that there are big benefits as well—primarily that customers are coming to expect smart technology.
“Manufacturers are keeping us up to date with all the advancements that occur each year, showing us why that by adding their product to ours, will give us an edge over our competition and create the lifestyle experience we are marketing,” says Michael Neumann, director of sales and marketing, BH3 and head of BH3 Realty, http://bh-3.com, Aventura, Fla.
He points out to one specific example: Prive at Islands Estates, which is an ultra-luxury private island where residents experience the best of everything is expected. Comprised of two 16-story towers with 80 residences apiece on an eight-acre island, it provides an array of lifestyle amenities such as the Numi toilet from Kohler. The company worked with manufacturers to make sure advancements were included.
The bottomline is that technology is changing the way projects are built—and thus it is also changing the relationship between manufacturers and builders.