Hardware

On-Site iPads Change the Game

19 May, 2011 By: Melanie Perry

Tech Trends: Tablet computers offer countless benefits for Clayco's mobile workforce, but have yet to replace laptops.


The term tablet PC has been around for a decade now, but it seems that the launch of Apple's iPad has brought these devices into mainstream awareness. Has the iPad earned its place in enterprise use? Does the intuitive interface relegate it to toy status for casual users or does it have professional applications for designers and builders?

One company that has embraced the iPad for daily use is Clayco, a design–build and real estate development firm headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri. On the Key Differentiators page of its web site, the company describes its practices and its workforce as being competitive, with an environment that encourages efficiency, ambition, and pride. That attitude of seeking better ways of operating has manifested itself in the company's acceptance of new tools in all aspects of business, including the way it equips its mobile workforce.

The Eye-Candy Factor

Apple is known for its sleek product designs and attractive user interfaces, and its iOS devices are recognized for their convenient access to media. For Clayco, these features make the iPad a great marketing tool. Tomislav Zigo, director of virtual design and construction, said the firm has created videos that show off its building information modeling (BIM) work and formatted them for display on the iPad. These videos are a quick way to put stunning visuals in front of clients without using a standard conference room setup, he explained. Clayco employees also use iPads to assist with presentations, by using PDFs much as they would Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. 

Zigo commented that the iPads also make it easier for employees to access other documents and media. PDF reports, whitepapers, articles, and software documentation are all easier to carry around and read when the user has a few spare moments. Employees use the iBooks application to save PDFs to their devices or download books.

At the Job Site

Clayco's St. Louis office has issued 30 iPads for use in the field. Zigo said that employees use various applications on site, but that Vela Mobile iPad from Vela Systems has been a game-changer. 

The free app works with or without Internet access in conjunction with the rest of the Vela Field Management suite, including Vela Web, a web-based platform for accessing Vela Systems documents and field activities, and Vela Reports, dashboards for construction executives measuring field activities such as quality and safety. Clayco employees use Vela Mobile iPad for jobsite information tracking, drawing markups, access to construction sets, RFI tracking, punch lists, safety issues, and daily issues. Before using this app, they marked up paper forms, which later had to be transferred manually into records back at the office.


Clayco employees use the Vela Mobile iPad app to mark up drawings, access project documents and construction sets, track RFIs, monitor safety issues, and much more.

According to Zigo, this mobile access facilitates better tracking and comparisons. "It doesn't take two or three days to submit issues; it accelerates the whole process and gives you better control over who does what, better control over resolution of issues, and everyone is looking at the same revision of a document. No excuses about missed faxes, e-mails, or voicemails. It's truly moved job information into the field." He added, "We looked at Vela two years ago but didn't start using it then. Clayco gave a big push when the iPad came out and took another look."

Is the iPad the One and Only?
Now that the wait is over for Apple’s iPad 2, you might be wondering if it could be the best option for your work. Technology enthusiast Dustin Hutsell, a CAD manager at Mangini Associates in Visalia, California, has some advice on tablet choices. He said, “Apple is a safe bet today. Autodesk and other companies have rolled out multiple iOS applications and are likely to continue to do so. That being said, if someone were in the market to make a long-term commitment to tablet computing, they’d owe it to themselves to wait until [fall 2011] at least.”

Of the options worth waiting for, Hutsell speculated that an Android-based tablet from a well-known manufacturer could offer greater flexibility than the iPad and stated that Microsoft is feverishly working on a robust enterprise-focused tablet that will be able to run full Windows applications. “The other two strong, though less likely, contenders are webOS devices from HP and the new BlackBerry Playbook,” Hutsell added. “HP has the advantage of being a strong Autodesk partner and will likely attempt to use that leverage to get applications ported over to their recently acquired mobile operating system. BlackBerry is probably the least likely to get ports of the Autodesk applications. However, their experience in dealing with enterprise could very well lead Autodesk to work with them on bringing their applications to BlackBerry addicts.”

 

One of the less mundane uses Clayco has found for the iPad is using Citrix virtual computing solutions in conjunction with Autodesk's Navisworks Freedom to give people in the field direct access to the latest coordination models. Using remote desktop applications with the iPad, BIM engineers conduct model coordination, and field and project engineers and superintendents use Navisworks Freedom and Navisworks to access the models. Citrix accesses a very beefy desktop system to make it work. "The cloud access to a completely up-to-date set is significant — really a big deal to us," said Zigo.

Consensus?

Zigo said that although Clayco's workforce is making full use of the iPad, "people actively engaged in the project still carry both an iPad and a laptop," because they still need the processing power of the laptop to produce content. "There is no tablet that can run a full-blown BIM-compliant application, and there won't be for at least another two or three years," Zigo explained. But he's not discouraged by this delay because he focuses on the intent: "I don't think that's the purpose of the tablet. It's about mobility and access to information, not necessarily [the ability] to produce it."

In its forward-thinking fashion, Clayco is looking ahead to expanded use of mobile applications — for example, Autodesk Inventor Publisher Mobile Viewer, which allows users to interactively view animated 3D assembly instructions created with Autodesk Inventor Publisher desktop software. Clayco is planning to develop construction assemblies for construction manuals and is buoyed by the fact that so much associated data and precision can be included in a relatively small file, Zigo said.

"There's a huge potential in the field, when you have to describe critical details, if you have the ability to view and control assembly sequence and see the final assembly in 3D, with its associated data," Zigo said. "No detail on a drawing can replace that kind of interactive environment."


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