Read the article as published on Highway News.
Road construction is a complex logistical process that includes coordinating local council permissions, planning workforce and machinery, and traffic management.
Each decision has a significant financial impact on delivery and can negatively affect local communities, so reducing risk and optimising these projects is essential.
With the government’s recently announced £8.3 billion long-term plan to resurface over 5,000 miles of road across the country over the next 11 years, road repair and maintenance is not an issue that is going away soon.
To help, contractors are turning to the latest in generative AI.
Road closure considerations
Traffic management is a crucial aspect of road construction. When a road requires maintenance, contractors must work with local councils to agree on lane or road closures. These closures are granted for a specific period, making the deadline extremely important. If contractors fail to meet the deadline, they face significant financial consequences.
Disruption needs to be avoided where possible. Night and weekend road closures are more likely to be approved, compared to those during rush hours, because they minimise the impact on local communities. However, this approach can make workforce planning more difficult, adding further pressure on the construction process.
Step forward, Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is now being used to ensure that projects meet expected deadlines, by helping to minimise road closure time and create effective traffic management strategies based on the optimum use of labour and equipment.
One company leading the charge is ALICE Technologies. Responsible for the world’s first AI-powered construction simulation platform, ALICE Technologies is delivering projects around the world faster and at lower cost.
It starts with users uploading basic project information from a 3D model or logic diagram. Information relating to labour, materials, equipment, road closure constraints and construction methodology is then added. The result is a baseline cost and resource-loaded schedule that allows optimisation and efficiencies to be explored by adding or removing different conditions and resources.
The software analyses the data and creates multiple scheduling options. Road contractors can then choose their optimum route for delivering the project, using their own insights and understanding of any constraints to ensure deadlines are met.
ALICE also enables contractors to work on one unified interface, rather than relying on data coming from a variety of crews, machinery and software solutions. This helps streamline decision-making and provides a central reference point.
Larger construction projects, like motorways, usually take three to five years to finish. It is essential that projects stay on course from the start to reduce the risk of missing deadlines and extra costs. Checking the project delivery data early on lets site managers monitor the productivity rates in real-time and immediately identify any delays. They can also use this information to adjust the project schedule where needed, allowing for more dynamic planning and delivery.
National Highways has a vision to provide a road network that supports the country’s transport needs while protecting and strengthening the natural environment and community well-being by 2050. It is also planning on delivering net zero corporate emissions by 2030.
ALICE can provide contractors with data about the operation hours of machinery and the volumes of materials used. For example, ALICE can test the impact of using two smaller excavators rather than one larger one. Site managers can use this information to carry out carbon calculations to assess the carbon impact of different decisions.
The software can also be used for ‘what if’ exercises, such as testing the impact of using some of the new sustainable products that are emerging in the market, such as asphalt that stores carbon. Project managers can then assess the sustainable benefits against the cost and time implications identified in ALICE.
Higher temperatures and increasing rain are also affecting road construction worldwide. Some processes, like setting concrete, can be disrupted by the rise in extreme weather events. AI can even be used to model project downtime or periods when specific activities are impossible by utilising historic weather data and testing the impact on programmes. This lets project managers plan by making the working periods more effective or focusing on other activities that can be done during extreme weather events.
Road construction and maintenance is a continuous process, with Department for Transport statistics pointing to a 26% increase in road traffic over the last decade. By making it more efficient with AI, contractors can ensure they meet deadlines and budget constraints, and keep more cars moving on the road.