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Tablets Become More Common at Construction Sites

Boise State University is preparing for tomorrow by going high-tech.

Thu October 03, 2013 - West Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

BOISE, Idaho (AP) Boise State University professor Casey Cline isn’t waiting any longer to make the students in his construction management class more technologically savvy and ready for the professional world.

Starting this fall, all freshman enrolled in his class will be required to use iPads. The devices are essential, he said, to the new way of managing projects on site without the traditional paper and pens, from uploading data reports and photos to accounting for changes in job specs and safety materials.

“We saw the wave coming and want our students to be prepared," Cline told The Idaho Business Review.

Professionals in the construction field have been relatively slow to adopt new communications technology such as iPads and other tablet-style computers. But many in the industry in Idaho have realized recently that using tablets at job sites saves money and time.

Dan Drinkward, operations manager of Hoffman Construction, a company involved in the $70 million Jack’s Urban Meeting Place project in downtown Boise, said 15 years ago, using a handheld computer while on a construction site was unheard of. Now, Hoffman’s crews and the project’s team of subcontractors rely on them, he said.

“They are set up so our subcontractors and their staff can access a whole variety of information in the field without having to stop in the office," Drinkward said.

Some construction managers have been persuaded to adopt the new technology by iPad applications that are geared specifically to the construction industry. The apps are user-friendly and have changed the way work is conducted on the site, Cline said.

“Some construction firms I work with are going completely paperless. Crews can upload building information models right from the field. It’s incredible," he said.

Handheld technology has moved decision-making outside, said Noelle Spencer, project engineer of Hoffman Construction.

“Being able to get issues solved basically on the factory floor by being able to pull up plans right there or look at 2-D models is huge," Spencer said.

Still, making a full switch to tablets is complex and some companies have avoided it altogether.

For example, Nampa-based Radix Construction hasn’t made the transition. Although Radix superintendents are required to have a laptop in the field, and some workers use a tablet, it’s not universal, said Radix Construction Vice President Tony O’Neil. He’s still evaluating the options.

“We want there to be a level of comfort with one operating system which will become our standard," O’Neil said.

It also requires an investment that can be a hurdle for smaller firms.

Robin Anselme, the human resource and office manager at Petra Inc., said while project managers, superintendents and the administrative team have smartphones, the company hasn’t moved to tablets yet at construction sites.

“The construction industry is now rebounding, but for a long time, it completely plummeted, which meant we had to budget for other things," Anselme said.

Others say using tablets ultimately saves money.

“Before, if an architect made changes, hard documents would have to be ordered and sent out to everyone associated with the project, and it would take three to five days just to get the docs in hand," said Michael Papac, a project executive at ESI.

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