- Combining machine learning with digital technologies that are catching on in the engineering and construction sector — such as drones, GPS and BIM — will enhance quality control, project scheduling, data analysis and project cost savings, according to a study by McKinsey & Co. on artificial intelligence applications for the industry.
- McKinsey predicted that the E&C sector's adoption of AI will continue to be sluggish, but noted that E&C can borrow from AI algorithms employed in other, more tech-savvy industries for uses including transportation route optimization, pharmaceutical trials prediction and retail supply chain optimization.
- Most of the sector has yet to lay the groundwork for AI algorithms, the report continued. The first step to reaping the benefits of AI is investment in data collection and processing tools like cloud infrastructure and advanced analytics, according to the study.
As the second-least digitized economic sector in the world, construction has a lot of catching up to do before AI algorithms can be widely adopted. The E&C sector’s collective 1% investment in technology, overall, has not been enough to even lay the groundwork for AI, let alone implement it on a widespread basis, according to McKinsey.
However, the construction industry has seen increased interest in sensors, cloud-based data sharing and mobile connectivity, among other capabilities. For example, Triax Technologies’ wearable Spot-r sensor integrates with Autodesk’s BIM 360 software to transmit real-time data on the location and activity of workers and equipment to the cloud-based platform, accessible from any compatible mobile device.
AI algorithms take this one step further by deploying real-time solutions based on data that is collected and instantly analyzed. And when the construction industry is ready to make its move, it can start with AI applications that have been proven to optimize processes in other industries.
According to the study, the same algorithm that is used by the pharmaceutical industry to predict medical trial outcomes, for instance, could be used to forecast project risks, constructability and structural stability. Image recognition algorithms being used in healthcare to support diagnoses can enable drones to assess construction site images for signs of defects, structural failures or improper execution compared to initial designs, according to the study. And as modular building and prefabrication gains momentum, AI-driven inventory management being used in retail can help improve supply chain coordination and eliminate oversupply, McKinsey noted.