As we celebrate 75 years at Nabholz, we’re grateful for the precedent set by our founder and innovative business leader, Bob Nabholz. He believed so strongly in the people who worked with him that he embraced technology he thought would help them. In 1980, he purchased the company’s first IBM, anticipating computers would enable his teams to perform estimating, scheduling, and accounting tasks faster and more efficiently.
Now, we’re witnessing a new evolution in computing power. Artificial intelligence enables rapid data searches, predictive analysis, and machine automation. What once seemed possible only in comic strips now appears to be right around the corner. As exciting as this tech might be in consumer electronics, what does it mean for the construction industry?
Construction is a noble and time-honored profession that celebrates hard work. But as projects become more complex, documentation requirements grow, schedules compress, supply chains stumble, and our labor pools shrink, hard workers need more complex solutions than many of our conventional tools can provide. Our traditional management methods need a boost. As AI-enabled technology develops, here are some ways we think AI will support our projects and teams, providing interesting solutions to these challenges.
- Of the low-hanging fruit, virtual assistants may be the tools to socialize artificial intelligence among a demographic that will be skeptical. Large language models can retrieve specific information on demand, generate draft documents, and manage meeting minutes. Relief from these tasks should allow a construction manager to invest more focus on strategy and risk management.
- One of AI’s special powers is data management. We produce valuable data in the construction industry, but we often don’t know what to do with the sheer volume. AI will enable us to organize, retrieve, trend, and analyze data volumes now sitting idly in the cloud. An enterprise understanding of our performance will undoubtedly lead to better individual project outcomes.
- Risk management is an ancient art form, but what if we could layer AI’s predictive analytics with our human instincts? What would we learn? AI-enabled applications can quickly consider alternative work sequences, spotlight risky contractual provisions, or surface best practices for the right worker at the right time.
- Image-recognition technology is a remarkable advancement. These tools can scan progress photos for safety concerns or installed materials, scrub drawings to help an estimator identify scope items, and stitch together drone imagery to create ortho-mosaic maps and 3D models.
- Vision-enabled technology is paving the way for autonomous operation of vehicles, and the same technology is being applied to heavy construction equipment on active job sites. If there aren’t enough skilled operators to meet the demand of a booming infrastructure backlog, autonomous equipment might fill that gap.
- Speaking of autonomous machines, AI-driven robotic applications can help our teams with tedious tasks like progress photos or delivering materials around a job site. Some robots even perform high-hazard tasks that would otherwise put human life at risk.
We think artificial intelligence and machine automation will develop in concert with our need for highly skilled construction professionals, not as an alternative. We’re dedicated to our professional craft and want to empower them with the best tools. We’ll continue to watch AI-enabled tools with keen interest and apply them where they can best serve the people who execute Nabholz projects with pride and skill.
About the author: Jon Pahl is the Corporate Innovation Director at Nabholz. JP started as an intern in 1997 and is now our innovation champion. He leads the charge to stay on top of the latest innovations in our industry, implementing them thoughtfully and intentionally. He also encourages and empowers Nabholz employees to share their own innovative ideas and bring them to life.