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Tips for using tablets in the shop

How many of you have ever experienced this scenario? It’s a cold winter day. You just got into work, haven’t had enough coffee yet, and you sit down at your computer. Sure enough, you received an email overnight concerning revised drawings! Panic sets in and questions start to fly through your mind. “Are those drawings in the shop?” “Are we fabricating yet?” “How many copies of those drawings are in the shop?” Wouldn’t you know it, they are in the shop already. 

The lack of coffee prevents your brain from processing fast enough, but the plan begins to formulate. A quick call to the shop supervisor sends him on a mad dash to find all the drawings in the shop. Next, print the revised drawings. Of course, you always have trouble printing when you are in a hurry. And does it seem like it is printing slower today? Finally, we get our drawings. 

We head to the shop where we join up with the shop supervisor who is trying to locate the last drawing. It isn’t at the worktable where the piece is being fabricated. Did it blow off under a rack somewhere? After tearing the shop apart, it is finally located in the fabricator’s toolbox (who happened to be out sick that day). All the drawings are finally replaced, and you get to go back and get another injection of coffee!

Sound familiar? This is a scenario played out in fabrication shops around the world and is one of the reasons fabricators move to implement tablets into their processes. 

Electronic drawings are not new, nor are tablets. However, many fabricators are hesitant to integrate them into the shop.

Below are several considerations when considering the implementation of tablets.  


Every business has to count the costs and consider the benefits of any expenditure. The tablets can range from an $80 Amazon Fire Tablet to a $500 iPad. Which one you need to purchase will depend on the solution you use. 

A solution such as EPM Go simply requires a web browser and therefore does not need an incredibly powerful tablet. I’ve seen guys literally use their phones to access drawings, process production stations, etc. It can work, but a tablet is easier on the eyes! 

The range for protective covers can be as little as $15 but be as costly as $130. My experience is that you don’t need to spend much money on a cover. Why? Most of the damage to a tablet you will see in a shop is going to involve cracked screens. This is typically from something being dropped directly on the screen and most covers aren’t going to prevent this from happening. The other scenario is where a fabricator leaves his tablet on the bucks and rolls a beam over on top of it. The word “protective” in protective cover means little in that example!  Your best protection is to provide a mounting place on a toolbox so the fabricator will put the tablet out of harm’s way when not using it.

A fabricator might assume that the tablets will be thrown around and all will be replaced within the first year! Granted, it is a scary proposition putting electronics in the same vicinity as beams and welders! At one point, I was utilizing approximately 40 iPads in a shop. On average, 5 of them required replacing screens any given month. At $150 a pop, that added up. To rectify this situation, we replaced all of the iPads with Amazon Fire Tablets ($80 each).  The tablets were given to the employees as their personal property! An agreement was signed that a tablet was required for their work and that they were responsible for having a tablet every day. 

The employees were now motivated to take care of the tablets, yet they were happy to do so because they just received a free tablet! Not only that, but it was also a great hiring tool as the employee was given a tablet on their first day of work. Nice bonus!

In order to utilize a tablet in the shop, it will need to be connected to your wi-fi network. The cost of this depends greatly on your needs. How many access points do you need? What hardware do you need to purchase? How much bandwidth do you need? Do a lot of research in this area. You can spend a lot of needless money if you aren’t careful. Invest in a system that meets your needs today, yet is expandable as your company grows. Restrict your tablets from accessing anything other than the sites or tools needed to accomplish the work. Not only will this keep the fabricator’s mind on the job, but it lowers the overall bandwidth that is required.  

Implementation and training costs will greatly depend on the solution you use to provide the data to your employees. While training, the biggest barrier to utilization of the tablets is simply intimidation experienced by those that despise electronics! 

Most fabricators today are used to getting on their phones and navigating around very easily.  Transitioning to the tablet is very natural for most, especially when they experience the benefits which I will cover in my next blog.

Find out more about how Tekla Structures can help in Fabrication.

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About the Author

Ricky Horton is a full-time consultant specializing in the implementation and design of information systems surrounding the Tekla PowerFab suite of products. He has almost three decades of experience as an executive in the structural steel industry and over a decade in utilizing Tekla Powerfab.

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