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Exploring the Synergy Between Mass Timber and AI for Sustainable Development

A sustainable development collaboration between mass timber construction and AI is underway. And the convergence of different technologies in the building industry is paving the way for a new era. 


This new partnership between the old and the new looks to AI to streamline systems and processes, and offers hope in reducing the environmental impact of construction.

Mass Timber, a sustainable alternative to traditional construction materials like concrete and steel, is increasingly recognized for its environmental benefits. It not only contributes to lowering greenhouse emissions but also embodies carbon, making it a critical player in climate change mitigation strategies. 

And the integration of AI is now enabling Mass Timber construction to lead the way in addressing global CO2 emissions, and advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to the economy, industry, innovation, and infrastructure.

“Mass Timber represents a paradigm shift in construction, moving towards prefabrication and precision assembly,” says Bhushan Nankar, who is renowned for his expertise in the field.  

Nankar, a Project Manager at Kinsol Timber Systems Inc., also envisions a software that can integrate Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) with 3D modeling to enhance Requests for Information (RFIs) and problem-solving capabilities. 

This can lead the Mass Timber and Construction industry in the direction of an efficient design process. This can also help the project team utilize built 3D models to identify and visualize issues upfront, generating RFIs that pinpoint problems and eventually propose potential solutions. 

This approach might resolve issues more efficiently, allowing for quicker decision-making and minimized project delays. 

“As more players in the construction industry seek ways to create energy-efficient built environments, Mass Timber buildings have emerged as a forefront solution,” says Nankar.  

“Their ability to facilitate faster construction with superior quality while being sustainable sets them apart, especially compared to traditional concrete structures.”

Nankar believes that Mass Timber construction can benefit from using AI to fulfill sustainability goals: “Unlike traditional construction methods where issues may arise during the later stages of a project, Mass Timber construction demands early coordination and planning,” he says.

“Utilizing technologies like AI and Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) means you can simulate and optimize the construction process virtually. 

By doing so, we can identify and resolve potential issues well in advance, mitigating risks and ensuring smoother execution during construction.

“Navigating these complexities and proactively addressing them through innovative approaches is what drives my passion for my profession.

Recent developments in various countries, including Finland, a global leader in Mass Timber production, have shown that building with mass timber can significantly reduce carbon emissions compared to steel and concrete constructions. 

An analysis of various building models revealed that a Mass Timber building could produce up to 53% less greenhouse emissions than its steel counterpart. The growing adoption of Mass Timber is supported by evolving building regulations that now allow for the construction of mid and high-rise buildings using this material​​​​.

The collaboration between AI and Mass Timber also opens up new possibilities in construction methodologies. One such method is the kit-based approach, which involves preconfigured modules that can be assembled in various ways to create diverse structures. This approach, akin to assembling LEGO blocks, allows for the construction of buildings in a more controlled, efficient, and environmentally friendly manner. 

The prefabrication of components in factories reduces the impact of weather on construction, minimizes on-site construction time, and lessens the disturbance to surrounding neighborhoods. Additionally, the thick wood structural elements used in mass timber provide excellent insulation, reducing the energy needs for heating and cooling​​.

Nankar says while great strides are being made using AI, the construction industry has still been slow to adapt to technological advancements: “Despite the rapid evolution of AI and its potential to revolutionize construction practices, there’s a hesitancy within the industry to move away from traditional and outdated, technologies,” he says. 

“My concern is that this reluctance might hinder the industry’s ability to fully capitalize on the opportunities presented by AI and other innovative technologies.”

Nankar adds, “The inertia of large, established companies within the construction sector, which are often slow to embrace change, exacerbates this issue. Their reluctance to update their products and processes could impede the industry’s overall progress.

“It would be a great shame if certain companies within Mass Timber didn’t seize the moment so the industry can become a more efficient, sustainable, and technologically advanced sector. 

“The potential for AI to improve project outcomes and reduce risk is immense, but realizing this potential requires a shift in mindset and a willingness to embrace change at all levels of the industry.”

George Berghorn is the Assistant Professor of Construction Management at Michigan State University, (MSU) and the research director for its Mass Timber Program.

Nankar was one of his graduate students in 2017 and showed his excellence and enthusiasm for the area of Mass Timber in the very first weeks of study.

“Bhushan came highly recommended to me by another student and he didn’t disappoint. He is very motivated to improve himself through education and his work.”

Berghorn adds: “Bhushan is an excellent person to be around because he is so competent and driven, as well as having wonderful personal attributes as well. 

“I have also seen him do an excellent job mentoring students and taking them under his wing, and he continues to be a resource for graduate students that I have now going through their programs and conducting their research. 

“Bhushan is also completely willing to accept feedback and learn, which is not always the case in the construction industry. There are a lot of Type A personalities!”

Dean Lewis is the Director of Mass Timber and Prefabrication at Skanska USA Building Inc and worked with Nankar who reported directly to him as a manager at Swinerton.

“Bhushan is a very bright and talented individual. He’s extremely talented in communication and making sure people understand the nuances of what he’s doing because I feel like sometimes that can be lost.”

Lewis adds Bhushan would go out of his way when there was a problem and would often develop a system himself to track issues and correlate those back: “It’s a testament to his dedication and skill he would do that. Bhushan has always been incredibly gracious and humble. 

“We were working together on one of the most challenging projects of my career, and Bhushan showed superior skills at doing shop drawings which is extremely rare. 

“He knows how to plan trucking logistics to get things on-site to train shipment facilities. And then he can work with our self-performing teams to help deliver the project track budget, and see where the holes are. He is a huge asset to any team.”

There is no doubt as the construction industry embraces these technologies, it is imperative to consider their broader social and economic impacts, ensuring that the pursuit of sustainability is inclusive and benefits all sectors of society.

Nankar concludes: “The synergy between mass timber and AI represents a groundbreaking shift in sustainable construction. It offers a path towards more environmentally friendly and efficient building practices, aligning with global efforts to combat climate change and achieve sustainable development goals.”


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