Painting large objects like bridges and water towers takes precise planning, strict quality control checks, nerves of steel ... and an iPad. At least that’s how one family-owned company is doing it and saving $150 each day to boot.
"We started dabbling in it about a year and a half ago,” said Derek Goff, without a trace of irony. Goff is operations manager for Thomas Industrial Coatings, a company that specializes in industrial coatings.
Except his company’s dabbling is not in, as one might expect, paint. It’s tablets. To meet industry certifications, organizations like Thomas Industrial Coatings need to be pass quality control inspections.
Such inspections are document intensive; usually six to 10 pages long and call for measurements such as ambient conditions or how much paint is used on a project. The company requires signatures from onsite foreman and managers in the home office. That’s a lot of documentation flowing back and forth.
“That’s how we got into tablets,” said Goff. “It was a solution to the volume of paperwork that has to be signed off on. Also, we were trying to go paperless.”
The Pevely, Mo.-based company, which generates more than $50 million in sales annually, started off with about 20 iPads for an initial beta testing about a year ago. The tests including pairing workers in the office and in the field.
“They were the hottest things out, said Goff. “But there were no apps for industrial painting. They were very difficult to find. We stumbled upon TruQC [which creates cloud-based job site documentation for iPads]. They really tailored the app to everything we needed it to do.”
In addition to using the tablets for quality control, the 20 workers in the beta testing program also used them for e-mail.
“It is not always easy to carry a laptop around with you at a job site,” said Goff.
Staff reaction varied. The office staff responded positively. The company’s foreman wasn't very familiar with tablets and in some cases didn’t know what they were.
“They were shocked. They didn’t know to use it and [some were] afraid to drop it,” he said. “They heard it was hard to use an Apple system.”
The subsequent training sessions varied in time depending upon the trainee’s comfort level from an hour to a couple of days, the operations manager said.
Saving time and ditching digital cameras
The company now has about 40 crews going and uses about 90 tablets. “It’s been up as high as 110 based on the work we have,” Goff said.
“They have absolutely been a tremendous help for our efficiency,” Goff said. Prior to tablets, the normal documentation process for a project like a bridge using pen and paper took about two to three hours a day, he said.
“Now, they use a tablet and go right into the area,” Goff said. “They take pictures of what we’re doing using an app. No more digital camera.”
The time saved allows company foreman to be onsite watching work and supervising, he noted.
Goff estimates that each tablet used by a foreman saves the company about $150 per day. “With 40 foremen in the field, those numbers add up to tremendous savings,” he said. “Our familiarity and comfort with tablets is growing. It certainly helps us comply [with regulations] and make us a leader in our industry.”
For now, Thomas Industrial Coating is happy with its choice of hardware. “We have no plans or desire to move from the iPad,” says Goff..