App Happy: A Sampling of Mobile Apps That Help ECs Save Time and Money

Mobile apps provide users with similar services to those available on computers for quick, easy access anywhere on smartphones and tablets. Below, electrical contractors from across the country discuss a range of popular apps that are revolutionizing the industry by saving labor, reducing costs and helping to improve operational efficiency.

PlanGrid

This mobile construction management software provides builders real-time access to blueprints, punch lists, daily reports, submittals and more, enabling contractors and owners in commercial, heavy civil and other industries to work together from anywhere throughout the project life cycle. It provides updates and file synchronization over Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Jim Ferry, president of Pittsburgh-based Ferry Electric Co., a medium-sized contracting firm founded in 1926, said the PlanGrid app has made huge inroads for his team and other contractors.

“All of our foremen and project managers have iPads, and PlanGrid gives us the ability to have all of the drawings we need on our iPad and with us at all times,” he said. “For instance, if our electrician needs to ask our foreman on the ninth floor of a building a question regarding an electrical reconfiguration in the ceiling, they’d have to meet up later to discuss it after referring to a roll of drawings. With PlanGrid, all of the info they need to discuss the matter is on their iPads, and they can pull up the specs, cross-reference and overlay drawings, etc. We’ve employed PlanGrid in our operations for the last four years, and it’s very popular and easy to use.”

UL Product Spec

UL Product Spec enables users to quickly find, specify or verify UL-certified products and search by such fields as installation, product type, UL product category code and more.

“UL Product Spec allows you to search for products and quickly get their UL reference and appropriate [National Electrical Code] . It’s a great app and a real time saver,” said Michael Hanek, director of engineering at Continental Electrical Construction Co., Oak Brook, Ill.

iAuditor

Offered by company Safety Culture, iAuditor is an inspection app that helps enhance safety and quality standards across an organization by allowing team members to collect consistent data, standardize operations, send reports, identify failed areas and address problems. It can be used for creating checklists, conducting audits and sending off reports on the spot.

Joe Rubino, general manager of E-J Electric T&D LLC, Long Island City, N.Y., said iAuditor has paid for itself tenfold.

“For a small fee, we downloaded this app to all of our foremen’s phones, and it enables them to do their weekly safety audits and send them right in, where they get memorialized and filed by the customer, supervisor, foreman, state, etc.,” Rubino said. “We audit our crew to ensure that they adhere to all safety protocols, and the app helps our foremen observe the crews, identify things they’re doing right or wrong, and have the ability to add a picture to a report using the phone’s camera. We always stress safety first, but the truth is that we can’t address a situation or fix something if we don’t know it’s broken. This app helps us document and memorialize situations that are both incorrect and correct. We love nothing more than to catch someone working safely and reward them with a gift card, which goes a long way.”

Northeast Line NECA app

This app was created for NECA’s Northeast Line Constructors Chapter, Scarsdale, N.Y., the powerline side of the business that involves utility company work. When asked to bid on a job, contractors can use the app to access all of the wage rates and other terms negotiated with local unions from southern New Jersey to upstate New York and more.

“In our area, which covers 10 states throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic region, we have links to the agreements with nine local chapters of the IBEW, and the app has tabs for apprenticeship contacts and Resource Center class schedules and instruction as well,” said Michael Gilchrist, chapter manager of the NECA Northeast Line Constructors Chapter. “We’ll be rolling this app out to our 45 members this fall, and other NECA chapters are creating local versions of this app for their areas, as well.”

Though fairly new, the Northeast Line NECA App has delivered benefits to a number of regional contractors, including E-J Electric T&D’s Rubino.

“[It] has already come through for us in several different states,” Rubino said. “It helps give me access to information on the road that I’d otherwise have to call the office for.”

Milwaukee One-Key

Milwaukee One-Key is a digital platform for tools and equipment that enables users to track tools anywhere, save receipts, log purchase info, set up service reminders and assign tools to employees. Millions of dollars of tools go missing each year, so the One-Key app keeps an eye on tool assets by automatically keeping records of the last time it was within 100 feet of One-Key-enabled tools, helping contractors pinpoint missing items quickly.

Rapid application development

Rapid application development (RAD) software can speed up application development, delivery and integration while reducing IT costs, and it enables any contractor to create the tools they need to collect, track and analyze information with no coding required. With RAD tools, contractors can build as many cloud-based apps as they need to do exactly what they want, such as managing projects, service requests, supply chain activities, documents and more.

For Todd Mikec, president and CEO of Canonsburg, Pa.-based Lighthouse Electric, which employs about 500 electricians, the use of the RAD software tool QuickBase has been game-changing for his firm by helping to eliminate excess rogue applications, expedite system and solution development, mitigate redundant cost, and streamline information across teams that used to be siloed. Most apps today are built for a specific niche/purpose or are off-the-shelf systems that the contracting firm must accommodate their process to.

“With QuickBase, we have one platform through which to build an integrated realm of information for any process, can build that to suit our ever-changing model, and have the ability to prototype applications and test them within days [or] weeks,” Mikec said. “We currently have 15 apps built, with another 20 in the pipeline, and they’ve helped spearhead tremendous cost savings and efficiencies across all teams.”

One of the key apps the company has built is its tool-tracker application.

“Most applications today are primarily asset-tracking and nothing within the marketplace was able to meet our need to inventory tools based on our pricing and categories, or to order, track, or even rent tools for our jobs,” Mikec said. “Along with meeting our needs, the fact that our app was built on a common platform enables us to share this information seamlessly to other applications, such as our job tracker and kit tracking applications.”

Ugly’s Electrical Reference app

Ugly’s Electrical Reference guides have been used by electrical contractors in the field for more than 35 years based on their updated listing of OSHA regulations and NEC standards and help ensure that electrical and plumbing jobs are completed safely and correctly every time. They are now available for iOS and Android.

“The Ugly’s app is a high-tech version of a popular pocket reference manual with electrical formulas that electricians used to carry,” said Skip Perley, President and CEO of Sioux City, Iowa-based Thompson Electric.

ET&D Partnership

The free Electrical Transmission & Distribution (ET&D) Partnership app, available for iOS and Android devices, provides searchable information on ET&D best practices, allowing line workers to quickly and easily access detailed information from any location. Designed to help reduce injuries, illnesses and fatalities among workers in the electrical transmission and distribution industry, the popular app also features industry news, safety tips and safety talk outlines, and other training information.

NECA apps

Wesley Wheeler, NECA National Director of Safety, said NECA offers two apps that help support greater safety and efficiency.

NECA’s Personal Protective Equipment Selector app: Compliance with NFPA 70E in the field is easy if you use NECA’s 2018 NFPA 70 PPE Selector to help perform proper risk assessments for shock, arc-blast and arc-flash hazards.

“It also allows you to see the proper arc-rated garments and personal protective equipment one should be wearing and using while performing justified energized work,” Wheeler said.

Available in both iOS and Android platforms, this easy-to-use app can help ensure that electrical workers are wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment to protect themselves from electrical hazards.

NECA’s Safety Meeting app: This app helps employees comply with requirements for documenting job-site safety meetings and other job-related activities or incidents. In addition to documenting safety talks and incidents on the job and providing links to NECA resources, the NECA Safety Meeting App (SMA) includes several checklists and job briefing forms—including equipment, truck/site safety, fall protection, and vehicle inspection checklists—for use every day to electronically document these required tasks. Visit necasafetyapp.com for more.

“NECA and SMA have continued to respond to member suggestions and identify industry needs to provide revisions that serve our members and their workers and, by adding these checklists and job briefing forms, workers are able to document them in real time with a time stamp to verify that these activities are taking place on the job,” Wheeler said.

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