Cost Reduction Strategies for Major Excavation Projects

Wielded properly, today’s tools boost construction efficiency and performance, while minimizing onsite challenges and risks—a solid foundation of savings for general contractors and developers.
By René Morkos
October 27, 2021

Large-scale excavation is among the most hazardous of construction activities. Effective management of the associated risks requires deep and detailed assessment of project planning and workflow. Whether planning for the construction of massive facilities or major infrastructure, the need for use of serious equipment can present enormous variable costs.

Efficient clearing of excavated matter and safe onsite staging of materials pose additional challenges to managing site traffic and workflow. And unexpected atmospheric hazards may not be revealed or encountered until a project is well underway. With so many unknown factors and moving parts, a comprehensive view of project scheduling, workflow, and progression is essential—and far too complex to be handled effectively by most human teams. New technologies and tools that incorporate the use of artificial intelligence offer powerful capabilities for addressing and managing risk—a use paramount to controlling cost and ensuring on-schedule completion in today’s ever-shifting construction environment.

Below are five ways large general contractors can use AI-driven tools to trim costs and reduce risks when tackling major excavation projects.

Effective allocation of equipment

Excavation equipment is expensive, and adds major variable cost to any large-scale project. Whether digging tunnels for a metro line or mountain pass, the use of a boring machine costs millions of dollars per tunnel—and even a minor snafu can see big impact to the bottom line. When a general contractor is on the hook for use of expensive machinery, efficient allocation is a must for controlling costs.

Using AI, general contractors can quickly maximize onsite use of equipment, adjusting to changes as they arise. Some programs may even propose alternative pathways to completion; for example, demonstrating the cost savings and scheduling benefits of using multiple excavators simultaneously or sequentially. In case of equipment shortage or failure, substitution of other tools might be analyzed for consideration. Assessing multiple scenarios for equipment allocation can help compensate for unforeseen delays, reduce expenses and avoid costly downtime, which postpones completion.

Improved site flow

With so many moving pieces and parts, onsite conditions can quickly become a hindrance to smooth progression of a project. AI-based tools can be used to incorporate site-specific needs for ingress and egress, removal of excavated materials, and onsite staging and placement of materials into the project workflow—improving overall site safety and reducing the risk of unforeseen backups and delays.

Labor scheduling and distribution

With labor shortages at an all-time high, smart scheduling and distribution of labor is critical. AI-driven tools streamline the process, helping general contractors and developers decide how best to apply their workforce. Could having teams work in sequence be more efficient than working in tandem? Will adding additional labor help decrease the time to completion, or simply cause bottlenecks elsewhere? Using AI to analyze different scenarios can reveal multiple pathways to completion, allowing general contractors to maximize use of available labor by increasing workforce efficiency.

Implementation of safety measures

No two excavation projects are the same—and unforeseen environmental conditions and safety concerns can delay projects indefinitely. Destabilization of neighboring structures, unexpected atmospheric hazards or changes to ground condition often require speedy implementation of safety measures. When on-the-fly adjustment is required, an AI-based solution can help general contractors make informed decisions; for example, comparing and contrasting site-appropriate methods for stabilization or options for introducing additional shoring and support. Adjustments to scheduling and site flow can limit the presence of labor in high-risk areas, and the use of alternative equipment can improve worker safety or decrease exposure to hazards, without derailing project progression.

Circumvent dependency delays

On large-scale excavation projects, dependency delays arise from many directions. Supply shortages, delivery delays, equipment failure and regulatory snags are just a few of the challenges that can tie up a project. But when using AI for construction project management, general contractors can often circumvent major roadblocks by directing resources away from dependent tasks. Focusing resources and effort toward what can still be accomplished minimizes the impact of stalls and delays to project delivery while clearing the pathway to solutions that push the project forward.

In today’s quickly-shifting construction environment, maintaining forward momentum is mission critical. Though all of the strategies above could certainly be accomplished manually, when even the slightest delay equates to millions of dollars lost, access to a solution that reduces downtime from months to mere minutes is priceless. AI for construction project scheduling and management has come a long way toward solving the real-life challenges of large-scale excavation and construction. Wielded properly, today’s tools boost construction efficiency and performance, while minimizing onsite challenges and risks—a solid foundation of savings for general contractors and developers.

by René Morkos
René Morkos is the founder and CEO of ALICE Technologies. The son of a civil engineer, René grew up in the construction industry, working on a wide range of projects with international impact managing infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, building an underwater pipeline in Beirut, engineering the automation of a gas refinery project in Abu Dhabi and leading development of virtual design and construction models for Amsterdam’s cruise ship terminal—before creating the world’s first Artificial Intelligence for use in construction.

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