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“AI will give a big boost to the construction industry as the global population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, leading to a rise in demand for homes”

The AECO industry is undergoing a digital revolution with BIM, AI, and cloud technology at the forefront. In an exclusive interview, Nicolas Mangon, Vice President of AEC Industry Strategy at Autodesk share how these advancements are shaping the future of construction for better efficiency, sustainability, and collaboration

“AI will give a big boost to the construction industry as the global population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, leading to a rise in demand for homes”

The domain of architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) is continuously adapting to embrace cutting-edge technology and meet the escalating requirements. However, the AECO sector is encountering a pressing dilemma amidst the swift and substantial global population growth, where the clamour for innovative and sustainable buildings and infrastructure is skyrocketing. In this exclusive conversation, Nicolas Mangon, Vice President of AEC Industry Strategy at Autodesk, delves into the imminent future, heralding the imperative need for a paradigm shift–a superior, expedited, and resolute mode of operation grounded in cloud-based functionality overlaid with data and artificial intelligence (AI) for enhanced productivity in the construction industry.

What are some key trends you’re currently observing in the AECO industry, and how do you see them shaping the future of construction?

The AECO (architecture, engineering, construction and operations) industry is undergoing a massive digital revolution, driven by continuous advancement in BIM and increasing focus on sustainable design. BIM has moved from a specialised tool to a central pillar in the design and construction process, enabling more integrated and collaborative workflows, enhancing project accuracy, reducing errors, and facilitating better decision-making. As we continue to see advancements in BIM technology, its use will further extend into all stages of a building’s life cycle, from initial design through to facility management.

The next phase of BIM involves outcome-based models that focus on achieving specific goals from the start of a project. By using AI, buildings can be designed to meet various criteria such as sustainability, cost, delivery time, and habitability. This approach allows for complex and competing requirements to be addressed effectively in building design.

Additionally, there is a growing emphasis on sustainability and resilience in construction in the Middle East, with 68 per cent of leaders and experts saying sustainability is good for short-term business, while 89 per cent believe in the long-term benefits. The industry is increasingly prioritising green building practices, energy efficiency, and the use of sustainable materials. This shift is driven by both regulatory requirements and a broader recognition of the need to mitigate environmental impacts. The integration of BIM with sustainable design principles is enabling architects and engineers to create buildings that are not only efficient but also adaptable to changing environmental conditions.

What are the most significant challenges faced by the AECO sector today, and how can they be addressed?

The global population is projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, leading to a rise in demand for buildings, homes, and infrastructure. The way we work is evolving due to remote collaboration and a multi-generational workforce. The industry faces challenges such as increased complexity from tools and data, rising costs of materials and energy, and the need to do more with less. Despite these challenges, there is a growing optimism towards the adoption of AI to support the industry through these changes.

We’re also seeing greater BIM adoption and an increase in prefabrication methods in the industry. BIM helps optimise material usage by providing accurate quantity take-offs and reducing waste. Prefabrication and modular construction methods can also help control costs by manufacturing components in a controlled environment, which improves efficiency and reduces labour expenses on-site.

Another challenge we are facing today is a heavy reliance on manual processes, which are time-consuming and prone to errors. Digital transformation is key here, enabling contractors to implement automated tools and technologies to streamline workflows, improve accuracy, and accelerate project timelines. For example, using AI for project planning and management can optimise scheduling, resource allocation, and risk management, ultimately reducing the time and effort required for manual and repetitive tasks.

According to a survey, 97% of employees and executives believe that a lack of alignment within a team can negatively impact project outcomes. Siloed working environments often lead to miscommunication and delays. To address this issue, the industry should adopt integrated project delivery methods and utilise cloud-based collaboration platforms. These tools facilitate real-time communication and data sharing among different departments, helping to break down silos and improve overall team alignment.

How is digital transformation impacting the AECO industry?

Digital transformation is profoundly reshaping the way we design, construct, and manage the built environment. Companies embracing digital transformation are more competitive in their industries and are seeing drastic results. 79 per cent of leaders in the AECO industry say the future growth of their firm depends on digital tools.

By adopting advanced technologies, AI and cloud-based collaboration tech, these companies can deliver projects more efficiently, accurately, and cost-effectively. This technological edge allows companies to maintain a stronger market presence compared to others with lower levels of digital investment. The findings in Autodesk’s State of Design and Make report indicate that companies investing in their own digital transformation experience better performance and enhanced productivity, adapting faster in response to industry changes. Though the benefits are clear, implementation challenges are holding some firms back from digital transformation and require wider changes beyond the adoption of new technologies.

Industry leaders and experts emphasise that implementing new tools is not sufficient to drive effective digital transformation. Adoption is most successful when it’s paired with process improvements and a shift in mindset, both from employees and organisational leadership. Embracing innovation and adaptability is essential for navigating the complexities of digital transformation successfully and companies doing so are well-positioned for continued success in the evolving AECO industry.

What emerging technologies do you believe will have the biggest impact on the future of construction?

Artificial intelligence (AI) is set to have a big impact in transforming the construction process by optimising every stage, helping professionals automate repetitive processes, analyse vast datasets and augment human talent to generate real-time solutions. Architects, engineers, and designers are now outsourcing some of the repetitive aspects of the industry to algorithms, such as more efficient use of materials and predictive analytics for job site safety and risk management.

Additionally, AI-driven tools can optimise resource allocation and scheduling by ensuring that projects are completed on time and within budget. Machine learning algorithms can analyse historical project data to identify patterns and recommend improvements to drive efficiency and productivity. AI can handle the heavy lifting of data processing and predictive analysis, while leaders bring creativity, expertise, and decision-making to the table. Teams utilising the power of AI and alongside workforce talent and capabilities, is where we see the industry flourish.

How can technology and digital tools help address sustainability challenges in construction projects?

Sustainability is a key concern for employees and investors and has been identified to be a driver of a business’s success. Digital tools facilitate the optimisation of material usage, helping to minimise waste and environmental impact.

Through BIM, designers can conduct accurate quantity take-offs and explore alternative materials with lower embodied carbon. Additionally, life cycle assessment tools enable stakeholders to evaluate the environmental impact of different material choices, allowing for informed decisions that prioritise sustainability without compromising structural integrity or performance.

In fact, over 97 per cent of companies have already begun implementing sustainability initiatives by utilising AI tools to streamline their operations. This strategic approach allows organisations to incorporate AI technologies from the onset of project development in order to enhance sustainability practices and assess potential environmental impacts. Through the utilisation of AI tools during the conceptual phase, companies can optimise decision-making processes to achieve specific sustainability goals. This method facilitates the early identification of a project’s sustainability impact, making it easier for organisations to assess and address environmental concerns at the project’s inception.

How do you envision the future of building design and construction, particularly in light of advancements in technology and evolving industry demands?

In recent years, virtual reality and digital twins have been described as ‘emerging’ technologies but haven’t gained strong momentum. We see this changing, with digital twins becoming a critical tool for facility managers and owners in the areas of long-term asset planning, predictive maintenance, and remote asset management.

BIM has already transformed many aspects of the AECO industry by providing a more collaborative and data-rich environment. As the new outcome-based BIM model evolves, we anticipate even greater integration of data and workflows, leading to more efficient project delivery and enhanced collaboration among stakeholders.

Leaders are proactively strategising for future resilience, expanding their utilisation of AI technologies

Beyond BIM, the future will see an increasing adoption of generative design and AI. Generative design allows architects and engineers to explore a multitude of design options quickly, taking into account various constraints and parameters to optimise performance and efficiency.

Moving forward, we anticipate enhanced cooperation among teams throughout project lifecycles, leveraging a centralised source of information for seamless collaboration from design and engineering to construction and operations. Real-time cloud collaboration facilitates this streamlined approach. The shift towards remote work and other macroeconomic changes have equipped more organisations to swiftly adjust to evolving market dynamics. During these challenging times, leaders are proactively strategising for future resilience, expanding their utilisation of AI technologies to unlock growth prospects within the industry.