Facilities Department now using tablets to increase efficiency

HVAC technicians with iPads
John Fragola, left, and Peter Grady use iPads to monitor the heat inside Dana English Hall on the Mount Carmel campus. Both men are licensed HVAC technicians in the Facilities Department.
Nov. 8, 2013 - "When can I get mine?" is a question Keith Woodward, associate vice president for facilities operations, hears quite frequently from staff members eager to incorporate iPads into their daily routines.

Woodward said 30 plumbers, HVAC technicians, electricians, mechanics and carpenters in the facilities department carry iPads as part of a program introduced in fall 2012. The goal is to provide the technology for all 150 workers, with groundskeepers and custodians next to go online.

Woodward came up with the idea to introduce iPads as a means to increase the department's efficiency.

"We noticed that our employees would leave to take care of jobs and return to headquarters to check the computer for new work orders or to look at the energy management system, files, maps, blueprints or floor plans," he said.

The workers would also use the computers and printers at the Arnold Bernhard Library to keep up to date on their responsibilities. Woodward and Brian Hurlbut, facilities administrative coordinator, believed there had to be a better way and they developed a plan to use tablets.

The 30 workers are able to perform myriad tasks with the iPads, from controlling the heat in residence halls and monitoring locks to accessing reference manuals.

"If they are out in the field and they're looking at a Reznor rooftop unit on the top of Mountainview, they don't have to come back to get the manual," Woodward said. "They'll look at it right there. It's a huge time saver. The more we can put on the iPad the better. We're constantly trying to think about more things to add."

Hurlbut oversees the training of employees on the iPads, which are charged and kept at headquarters when not in use.

"It's been pretty smooth," he said. "The iPads are pretty user friendly. The employees seem to like them."

So do the supervisors. The technology increases productivity by about 120 hours per employee, per year, according to Woodward.

"We don't have to go back to the shop to make adjustments," said Peter Grady, a licensed HVAC mechanic at the university. "We can make them in the field. It's just like another tool in the tool box. If we have a good (wireless) signal we can do anything."

The use of iPads is not commonplace on university campuses. Woodward and Hurlbut presented the concept in October 2013 at the East Region Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (ERAPPA) annual meeting in Rochester, N.Y.

"We've received a lot of emails from other universities interested in our program," said Woodward, adding that over time he can envision employees operating irrigation systems, filling supply requests, ordering parts and filling out time cards remotely on the iPad.

"Technically, a year-and-a-half ago we were doing paper work orders," he said. "With the iPads a lot of work is done in the field, basically, in real time."