On-Site Magazine

AI and the next generation of BIM

By Jacob Stoller   

Construction Software

Newly released AI features from major BIM platforms are targeted at streamlining the work of architects and engineers.

(Photo: © Sergey Nivens / Adobe Stock)

Last fall, the investment advisory firm Wall Street Zen released a study showing that the mere mention of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a company’s quarterly report resulted in a measurable bump in the company’s share prices. AI, it appears, is the magic bullet that you can’t go wrong with. For contractors, however, techno-optimism meets a sobering reality: the challenge of applying digital information to a real-life physical job site.

“AI doesn’t hammer nails,” says Thomas Strong, principal at construction tech firm wired.construction and CEO of Building Transformations, a not-for-profit serving the digital needs of the construction industry. “AI can help manage all the pre-construction processes like creating schedules and better coordinated designs or buying materials. But at the end of the day, until you actually affect what’s happening on the job site, you’re not actually creating any real efficiencies in construction.”

Pre-construction, consequently, is where the action is for contractors, at least for now. “Our thoughts with AI-based 3D models are to create another layer that will empower the production process,” says Hammad Chaudhry, vice-president, Innovation & Construction Technology at EllisDon.

SWAPP and Augmenta are examples of upcoming start-ups betting on this change and aiming to bridge that gap. “We generally don’t build models, but there are tools in the market right now that help us get that AutoCAD or Revit model ready for production,” says Chaudhry. “So, you don’t need somebody to do the drafting or modelling – AI will do that, allowing those who were focused on modelling or drafting to focus on coordination.”


For many contractors, their AI journey began with ChatGPT, using it for such time-consuming work as looking up information from building codes.

“I think ChatGPT set the tone for all of these AI products,” says Strong. “There are so many construction-specific tools emerging, focused especially on the pre-construction phase of work, which is a lot of navigating red tape, reading documentation, and producing a plan that ultimately needs to be taken to the job site.”

Software vendor Zapier, for example, provides a tool for creating workflows with ChatGPT and Procore. Many of the new tools are bridging the gap between sophisticated digital models and contractors’ in-house skill levels. These tools not only help extract data from models, but from within the company’s own data assets.

“The data already exists, but it’s a lot harder to extract everything and look at all of it. You need someone who’s very, very experienced,” says Rajitha Chaparala, vice-president of product, data and AI at Procore. “So, what we can do is build models that actually extract meaning and present it so users can see everything together and make the decisions.”

The Procore BIM product takes models from major platforms and makes it accessible for contractors and facilities managers. “Procore BIM takes created models and builds a production model that can be used through pre-construction, construction, and building maintenance,” says Chaparala.



The biggest opportunities for AI may lie in enabling the adoption of new business models.

“A lot of the value of AI is going to be on the architect’s side,” says Chaudhry, “but in a future world where we’re working on an RFP for a design-build project, we’d be working with a design team to come up with a lot of different drawings and models for something that might not even move forward. So, AI could make a huge impact there.”

According to Chaparala, contractors can expect new products that will bring new capabilities to contractors, such as better clash detection, determining and tracking the carbon footprint of building materials, and detecting bias in a model.

AI can also support better collaboration between designers, contractors, and owners. “Hypothetically what we’ve been seeing is precon coming in earlier,” says Chaudhry, “and this is the perfect time to emphasize the value of precon becoming more important. With the architects and designers having the ability to get their models and drawings to production level a little bit sooner, precon can actually do what we’ve all been trying to do with models – identify the issues and flush them out before construction.”

His company’s in-house Insight and Analytics team, led by Eze Machabanksi, is working on what he calls “some exciting things” that they hope to showcase soon.

AI could also help contractors improve their products the way manufacturers do. “Manufacturers retain their IP and iterate to make their products better, but we don’t do that in construction. We start with a clean slate every time,” says Strong. “The Province of Ontario has built many hospitals, and each one is unique. The government paid for that unique solution every time, and there’s a huge cost to that. If we want to create efficiency, we need to do the same thing more than once so we can iterate and improve.”


Jacob Stoller

Jacob Stoller is principal of StollerStrategies. Send comments to editor@on-sitemag.com.


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