An American general contractor was hired for a large highway construction project in the USA and saved $25M thanks to AI-powered software.

The Highways England Smart Motorways Programme aims to improve traffic management in a way that minimises environmental impact, cost and the time it takes to increase road capacity.

The principle is that smart motorways save time and resources by eliminating the need to build additional lanes. There are three types of smart motorways: controlled motorways, motorways with dynamic hard shoulder running schemes, and motorways with all-lane running schemes.

Of course, even with this approach, delays to motorists are inevitable. And, if the project overruns, disruption and cost increase too. However, a solution is at hand – AI (artificial intelligence) powered planning and management.

Whether we like them or not – and they are the subject of much controversy – smart motorways are a fixture of British life. What we can all agree on however is that their construction could be further optimised, and the consequential disruption minimised. ALICE Technologies, a new player in the UK market, is helping contractors to solve this issue, using their AI solution.

With the help of ALICE Technologies, contractors can simulate the most elaborate project challenges and restrictions to ensure that all parameters are accounted for and that the operations are planned in the most efficient way possible.

To deliver the best value for taxpayer money and improve their own margins, construction companies working on smart motorways can benefit hugely from intelligent scheduling and analysis tools. What’s more, given recent events – the COVID restrictions, Brexit and the resulting economic turmoil – constructors need to become extremely savvy about how materials are being used and how labour is being deployed.

Using AI algorithms, ALICE (which is short for ArtificiaL Intelligence Construction Engineering) can be used to determine the exact amount of equipment and material constructors will need for a project and when they will need it, thereby eliminating unnecessary delays and obstruction of traffic. ALICE can also help to analyse the size of the construction teams on hand and then optimise the sequence of work depending on their availability.

It is a powerful tool that can help contractors get the most from their available resources, while also allowing them to demonstrate value for money at every stage. Although it hasn’t yet been used for a major motorway project in the UK, the benefits of ALICE have been amply demonstrated in large highway projects in the USA, of which the following is an impressive example.

ALICE in action

An American general contractor was hired for a large highway construction project in Eastern United States. The contract involved widening the current roadway from four and six lanes so that it became an eight-lane interstate highway throughout its length. The project also included providing motorists with a managed lane in each direction. In addition, the contractor was responsible for the reconstruction and renovation of four bridges crossing the interstate along its route.

Finding the right solution

ALICE can create construction schedules that mitigate risks and cut costs by developing production schedules that make operations run more smoothly. With this in mind, the contractor adopted ALICE mid-way through the project to find out whether the current construction schedules could be improved and whether there were opportunities to recover time that had already been lost due to work delays.

The contractor used ALICE to compare and analyse the many variables involved in this complex project. The software delivered detailed, resource-loaded schedules and production plans to the scheduling team, which enabled production managers to quantify the impact of different scenarios so that they could make informed decisions and put together the best plans for normal working and for contingencies.

Getting the most from ALICE

After incorporating ALICE into its workflow, the contractor was able to compare its existing solutions with those ALICE created. It found that the solutions produced by ALICE were invariably superior, making it possible to revise and improve the project plans and to get the work back on schedule. “We were able to examine many more project scenarios than we could have done using conventional methods,” said the contractor, “which made ALICE an incredibly powerful and useful planning tool.”

By challenging its existing schedules with ALICE and resequencing its plans, the contractor was not only able to make up the lost time, but also finished the project ahead of schedule. By doing so, the contractor gained more than 25 million dollars in value through early completion bonuses and savings on labour and materials. “The results we got with ALICE were astounding,” said the contractor. “We anticipated that we would make some modest savings in terms of time and money but, as it turned out, we saved many months on the overall project completion schedule. We now view ALICE as a source of competitive advantage; it has become our secret weapon.”

How does it work?

ALICE can be used both during the pre-construction planning phase and as a live management tool throughout the duration of the project. The system has been shown to deliver an average reduction of 11% in project costs, and to typically reduce construction time – and hence traffic disruption – by 17%.

To start working with ALICE, users upload a 3D model or logic diagram. Then they can input data relating to the resources they have at their disposal, such as materials and equipment, staff availability and costs, as well as deadlines for key milestones. ALICE then creates lists of tasks that will meet the requirements for each element of the project. As it was built with flexibility in mind, ALICE allows users to change or amend the order in which tasks will be completed, and to tailor the schedules to suit specific project requirements.

ALICE automatically produces construction schedules for every stage of the project, with deadlines and milestones. For each stage, ALICE provides accurate cost and time estimates, and offers guidance on the resources needed along the way. As a result, users have all the data they need to make informed decisions. It allows them to plan for the unexpected and operate on a ‘just in time’ basis when it comes to things like hiring additional workers and equipment, or ordering materials.Thanks to its flexibility, ALICE works with the users, supporting them at every step along the way.

Working together – AI and the human experience

You might be forgiven for thinking that AI will make human know-how completely redundant. But this couldn’t be further from the truth; ALICE works with rules set out by the user and helps them to track and analyse processes as the project unfolds. It can also act as a repository for the knowledge of the most experienced site managers, which can be later used as a training resource for more junior members of staff.

When looking at large infrastructure projects like the UK’s smart highways initiative, the numbers can easily spiral out of control without a robust analysis system to guide contractors. But through leveraging cutting-edge AI technologies like ALICE, those contractors can be confident that they are adding significant value to projects and optimising the use of existing resources. Less waste, more efficiency and minimal disruption on our roads – now that sounds like a recipe for success!