By Mike Ernst, VP of Insights & Innovation, Ryan Companies
There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is the wave of the future, transforming businesses like healthcare, banking, retail and transport. While the construction industry continues to drive economic growth, it is historically behind nearly from every other profession when it comes to adopting new technology. However, construction companies are now moving towards digital solutions to solve common project challenges and improve outcomes.
The construction industry is a complicated and multifaceted business with a lot of moving pieces. With the adoption of AI, construction companies can gather crucial project data that not only create efficiencies in project execution, but also helps in transforming working conditions for field employees. AI’s capabilities in programming, language processing, and computer vision make a significant difference in allowing construction companies to take advantage of historical productivity and performance data to influence future projects.
AI: a Core Element of Ryan
At Ryan Companies, we are in the early stages of using AI, with computer vision set up on eight of our high-risk multifamily, hospitality and senior living projects. AI was a good starting point for us to begin harvesting important and influential information on project sites with regard to environmental factors, safety, security, performance, and quality assurance and control (QA/QC). With fewer field workers on site, it is getting harder for us to capture the information we need in order to deliver successful projects to our customers. The data collected from the computer vision technology helps our team to execute and document projects appropriately and therefore use that intel to analyze how we can make overall decisions in a better way.
The cameras we have set up can pull in vital environmental factors including temperature, humidity and CO/CO2 levels that can have an extreme impact on the progress of a project. When you have a tight deadline and budget, variables like humidity can be one of your worst enemies. Prolonged drying and curing can have significant effects on the quality of the finished project. It is very important to consider weather and ambient temperatures when planning a project out in order to ensure timely completion and successful results.
Safety is one of the core areas that we put our focus on—it is our top priority. We leverage the benfits of AI to make sure everyone is wearing a strong headgear and vest on the project site. In fact, AI allows us to drive actionable insights from project sites and gives the assurance that we have a second set of eyes on potential hazards to helpireduce overall safety risks. In simpler words, once sufficient data is collected, we can monitor if workers are firmly tied off in dangerous points such as holes or places where they could fall. Most of all,, AI has assured us that we have confidence in the policies our team has put in place and that our safety program is working efficiently, which makes a great deal to us.
With the adoption of AI, construction companies can gather crucial project data that not only create efficiencies in project execution, but also helps in transforming working conditions for field employees
We are also using AI to monitor the security of the site and job performance which has been key to maintaining our schedule. Understanding and observing the work on-site and whatis possibly halting it, whether it is materials or moving people from floors through elevators, helps us to create the necessary efficiencies to get the job done right on time. Access to this type of data is beneficial and while they seem like decisions that may occur normally, they usually do not, as it is a challenging task to get the overall picture of everything that is going on when you are deep inside the project.
Another area where we are using AI is for quality assurance and control. We use a drone to inspect the project site before moving forward on important tasks like pouring concrete.
The drone reads data from up above and makes sure workers are in the right place, so that we can fix potential mistakes ahead of time rather than doing remedial work after the fact. It iss a proactive tool that can help prevent large financial mishaps and delays in schedule, in addition to providing transparency and helping us to set expectations for future projects.
Getting to Know AI’s Benefits
Like anything new, it takes time for people to adapt to a technological tool. Ryan’s field employees are slowly adapting to the new technology and trying to figure out how it fits in their normal workflow. The goal is not for superintendents to look at a handful of surveillance cameras all day, rather allowing the cameras to do the work for them in harvesting the information that we need from the site for better project delivery. We want our superintendents to be out solving problems and using their skills on a higher level.
Not only has it been a challenge for field workers but also for our in-house team.Since every project is different, there is a methodic adjustment to walk through with each individual project team on how best to use the technology. While AI is an amazing technology in the opportunities of documentation it can provide, you cannot just follow the principle of “set-it and forget-it.” It takes time to configure a camera to look for the same aspects that our team does when we walk around a project site. Patience is crucial in this transition.
Future of AI in Construction Industry
With eight of our high-risk projects using computer vision currently, our goal is to move up to 10-15 in the earlier part of 2020. While we continue to look for long-term efficiencies in the system, we have been able to match the cost of the technology with the costs it has helped us avoid. The transparency in avoiding miscellaneous costs is now helping us to work towards getting additional proficiencies..
Despite predictions of AI replacing the human workforce, we believe the technology will instead alter business models in the construction industry, reducing expensive errors, worksite injuries and making building operations more efficient. We are happy with the direction the technology is taking us and look forward to the opportunities and insights that contribute to our proactive approach in constructing buildings that create a positive impact and lasting value for our customers.