Katie Cutler, fleet technician, at work with her tablet.  - Photo: City of Madison, Wis. 

Katie Cutler, fleet technician, at work with her tablet. 

Photo: City of Madison, Wis. 

On some shop floors, desktop computers are getting the boot in favor of more portable tablets. Technicians are using these new tools for work order management, punching in and out of jobs, ordering parts, accessing vehicle information and manuals, viewing preventive maintenance checklists, looking up wiring diagrams or vehicle specifications, and more—all of which can be done right in their bay. With so many applications, are tablets the new must-have technician tool? Three fleets share their experiences.

City of Madison, Wis.

The City of Madison, Wis., decided to employ tablets after hearing a 2019 GFX Conference presenter encourage attendees to “do anything you can to keep mechanics working in their bays” to increase direct time on mechanical work. Inspired and already equipped with WiFi in the shop, the fleet found $45,000 in its budget and began issuing tablets to technicians.

“I began to review our own processes and realized mechanics often had to interrupt their mechanical work to leave their bays to punch in and out of work orders, or to communicate with the parts room, supervision, or other personnel,” said Mahanth Joishy, fleet superintendent.

“Diagnostic information and other web research also required using a shared workstation away from the bay or going to the upstairs library.” Using shared workstations wasted time making trips to the computer, but it also required technicians to log in and out to use email and the FASTER work order system. With other technicians waiting in line to use the computer, mechanics might have rushed through work order notes and skipped signing in to view emails, often missing important messages.

Today, mechanics are using tablets instead of shared work stations, and for the first time, all technicians have access to email right in their bays.  

“Giving devices assigned to individuals puts computing power at their fingertips, right where they are,” Joishy said. “They never have to wait to use the computing power they need.”

As a result of tablet use combined with other changes, the fleet has seen increased technician productivity, lowered vehicle out-of-service time, drastically reduced its overdue preventive maintenance list, reduced time spent at the parts counter ordering parts, and increased direct labor time on work orders.

With the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, tablets had some unanticipated benefits as well: using their own tablets instead of sharing keyboards, mice, and screens potentially helped the city reduce the spread of the virus. Important COVID-19 messages were shared by video conference on Zoom town halls with all fleet staff in five locations and two shifts. And, by enabling technicians to stay in their bays, tablets helped reinforce social distancing. “As of today, our department has had no downtime due to COVID-19 illness, and we hope to keep it that way,” Joishy said. 

Although tablets are a relatively new tool, Joishy has no doubt tablets are invaluable.

“Must-have? 110% no-brainer for any fleet,” he said. “In this modern day and age, our previous practice of asking technicians to walk short or long distances to use shared workstations or order simple parts by walking to the parts room and talking over the counter and waiting now seems woefully arcane.”

Mitch Roath, lead automotive technician, can take his tablet to a vehicle and follow the pinpoint tests right where he’s working. - Photo: University of California, Davis 

Mitch Roath, lead automotive technician, can take his tablet to a vehicle and follow the pinpoint tests right where he’s working.

Photo: University of California, Davis 

University of California, Davis

The University of California, Davis (UC Davis), invested in tablets, ruggedized cases, and upgrades to the shop’s wireless infrastructure three years ago.

“Tablets are used by technicians in almost all areas,” said Fred Gallardo, fleet services assistant director. “When our current desktops were due to be replaced, we decided a mobile solution would work better. We knew we wanted to move to a paperless solution, and the tablets help us take the information to the vehicle without having to print long documents.”

As predicted, use of tablets in the shop has helped the fleet reduce paper waste. It has also improved the way technicians work. “One example is in performing pinpoint tests,” Gallardo said. “Since most of the repair manuals have hyperlinks in their pinpoint tests, technicians can take the tablet to the vehicle and follow the pinpoint tests right where they are working.”

As a result of using tablets, the UC Davis fleet has also seen some surprising outcomes. In some instances, technicians can use tablets with diagnostic hardware to scan for codes, clear codes, reprogram modules, or monitor vehicle computers. Since most tablets have cameras built in, the fleet also uses them to attach photos to documents or in an email.

“We performed a service on a vehicle during swing shift and noticed the tires were worn excessively on the inside front. We used the camera to send a photo of the tires to the supervisor of the vehicle operator so they could make staff aware of checking tire wear,” Gallardo said.

 While tablets have helped improve the way UC Davis technicians work, Gallardo suggested they are more of a “nice to have” than a “need to have.”

“I wouldn’t say it is a ‘must have,’ as anything done on a tablet can be done on a desktop,” he said. “However, it does simplify a lot of the processes.”

Anthony Lee, journeyperson heavy duty mechanic for the City of Vancouver, B.C., now spends more time doing repair work and less time going back and forth to computers to update work orders or to the parts department to order parts. - Photo: City of Vancouver, B.C.

Anthony Lee, journeyperson heavy duty mechanic for the City of Vancouver, B.C., now spends more time doing repair work and less time going back and forth to computers to update work orders or to the parts department to order parts.

Photo: City of Vancouver, B.C.

City of Vancouver, B.C.

Technicians at the City Vancouver, B.C., began using tablets about a year ago, and timed the implementation with the replacement of the city’s fleet information management system. Amy Sidwell, manager, Fleet and Manufacturing Services, said technicians are able to work more efficiently with tablets right in their bays.

“Technicians are now able to spend more time doing repair work and less time going back and forth to computers to update work orders or to our parts department to order parts,” she said. “These efficiencies translate into reduced downtime for customers and reduced overall costs for servicing and repairing vehicles.”

Prior to implementation, the city performed a trial run on different tablets to assess usability, performance, application performance, durability, integration with corporate networks and Wi-Fi, and cost.

“Tablets were fairly easy to incorporate because we made the change to tablets at the same time as we replaced our fleet software, which meant we only had to conduct training once,” said Anthony Lee, journeyperson heavy duty mechanic. “The introduction of tablets gave us a new tool that made our jobs easier, so we have generally been quite accepting of the new technology.”

Tablets have even given technicians access to online training and, during COVID-19, staff have been able to participate in virtual meetings while maintaining social distancing.

“Tablets are a valuable tool for technicians,” Sidwell said. “They are a great tool for the City of Vancouver fleet and I believe they will be a great tool for many other fleets.”

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