Digital Builder

AI and Automation in Construction

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AI, Automation, and the Preparing for the Future of Construction Work

How Automation Helps Construction Workers Do Their Jobs  

Large-scale 3D printers capable of constructing an entire skyscraper. Drones utilized for inspection of commercial construction sites. Robot-powered heavy equipment manned by remote control. According to Building Design and Construction, these are just some of the realistic ways that automation in construction is starting to materialize around the world.

Yet, not everyone in construction agrees that automation is the right way to go. Even from popular culture, it’s clear that a robot takeover is a commonplace fear for many. From Battlestar Galactica, The Matrix, and Black Mirror, Hollywood continuously plays off the idea of what happens when artificial intelligence takes control. While construction professionals might not be fearing for their lives, many do have concerns about their job security. After all, what will happen to the blue-collar workers if robots take over their jobs? While this is a worry rooted in well-intentioned concerns, it’s less credible than common workplace gossip.

Nonetheless, it remains a widespread concern.

According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of adults in the US are actively worried about automation technologies replacing jobs currently carried out by humans.

Even more, 76% of people are concerned that automation is going to increase economic inequality while 64% feel it will take away humankind’s purpose in life. Although this might sound dramatic, it truly illustrates human’s natural reluctance to accept automation wholeheartedly into our workplaces.

How Automation in Construction Benefits Recruitment

One major reason for the labor shortage has been from the different demographic makeup of the global workforce. Millennials have replaced the Baby Boomer generation as the largest age cohort currently employed. Generally, this new workforce is tech-savvy and focused on education. Yet most entry-level construction roles do not require any post-secondary education. Additionally, the skills most Millennials are choosing to develop don’t cross over into the conventional construction industry where manual labor is the primary mode of work.

Or do they?

Automation can actually attract younger talent. Construction companies that focus on providing laborers with a sense of accomplishment will go a lot further in hiring qualified millennials. Along with career advancement, millennials are looking for careers that offer ongoing training and innovative methods. This is exactly where automation fits the bill. By incorporating the latest types of automation from app development to 3D printing for models, construction companies can connect with millennial laborers. As Millennials and even Generation Z workers enter the labor pool, some are steering away from traditional education paths and are looking for ways to gain new technical skills. If positioned correctly, providing hands-on experience with automation technologies could be key to fostering a new generation of construction workers.

By creating a tech-friendly culture that incorporates labor demands with apps, software, robotics, and AI, the construction market may be able to fill the gap in employment. More importantly, this degree of advancement will help generate a safer, more productive workforce for all construction laborers.

Humans + Robots = Superhuman Construction Workers

To get the best of both worlds with automation in construction, emphasize how these segments complement each other. First, consider this example of a complementary relationship between humans and machines in healthcare. While you mostly have heard about how IBM’s superhuman computer, Watson, destroyed its human competitors in Jeopardy, you might not have heard how it’s helping doctors. The computer’s data access capabilities can help diagnose patients based on their symptoms. From there, doctors can improve patient outcomes for their patients.

Even consider this recent example in construction. Now, a commercially available bricklaying robot, SAM, is available to work in tandem, not against, its human counterparts. The machine doesn’t actually replace the mason but increases productivity up to five-fold.

By finding ways to mesh the two types of labor, human-led, and automated, the construction industry can keep up the pace. The world continues to demand construction that provides the brick-and-mortar facilities necessary for a functioning society. Automation offers a solution for completing these construction projects more efficiently. Combining automation with labor, we can do less with more, allowing construction firms to keep up with competitive construction schedules.

How to Prepare for the Future of Construction

Preparing for the future of construction involves an eyes-wide-open approach. That means:

  • Be Open to Change: “McKinsey research finds that companies with a strong track record of digitization are 50% more likely to generate profit from using AI,” says the stats firm. If that’s not where your company is at this moment, make an effort to start now, even small steps.
  • Look to Other Industries for Inspiration: McKinsey points out that transportation and manufacturing have a lot to teach us about the best automation and AI standards and practices. Film and fast food, believe it or not, have some seriously good advice too. 
  • Nurture Employees’ Development and Hire Right: Look to train internal employees on skills that will be needed with coming automation. After all, for AI to be successful, we’ll need to equip our workers for success. Note that the future of construction work will demand a higher level of skill as well as more frequent upgrades, so choose people who can handle the pace.
  • Double Down on Data Collection: Data is the driving ingredient for making artificial intelligence and automation a success in any business. Whether you adopt AI in the next year or a decade, it’s wise to be data-driven to improve AI’s future at your company. Check out some of the best strategies here.

The Future of Construction Work Is Almost Here: Be Ready

AI is coming, whether you like it or not. The truth is, tomorrow becomes today shockingly quickly. Don’t assume you can adopt AI and automation when it’s already here and too late to get up to speed. 

Plenty of leading companies are starting to embrace automation and AI, and if you want to remain competitive–whether as a massive firm or a boutique startup–you need the right tools to do so. Make sure leadership understands this, even if you’re the one who has to bring it to their attention. So start pursuing questions about tomorrow today, before it’s too late–and you get left behind.

Grace Ellis

Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk

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