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Automating HVAC inspections, servicing using iPads and Tablets

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Though automation has entered the Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) industry in a big way, many HVAC companies continue to perform paper-based HVAC inspections, which need to be followed up with scanning the paperwork or manually entering the data into a database or spreadsheet.

Can a tablet or iPad digitalise and automate the recording of inspections, servicing and repairs? Most tablets operate on Android (Google) or iOS (Apple) operating systems and are very similar in terms of their functionalities such as battery life, imaging capabilities and durability.

The paperless inspection form on tablets is a replica of the information that already exists on paper forms or an Excel spreadsheet. The HVAC technician should be able to access and utilise the information provided in the paperless version, pick from a list of possible choices, use speech to text to add comments or type in information required using the device keyboard.

A major advantage of the paperless inspection solution on the mobile devices is its ability to make current, past, and future information accessible and easy to use.

Paperless inspection software on mobile devices specifically designed for HVAC inspections, servicing and repairs should deliver the following functionalities: List all information required by technicians to perform their tasks including questionnaires, parts, possible outcomes, acceptable threshold values etc.; Enable technicians to record recommendations and/or create new corrective tasks; Produce reports, certificates or invoices as required in the field; Send the information to the customer and/or the office in real time; Use barcodes or RFID if required to identify the equipment being services; Use the camera function to take pictures of defects and annotate the picture in the field; Easily access manuals and instructions on the tablet.

Paperless inspection solutions on mobile devices can also include validations that allow or disallow data entry. Apart from providing the user with historical information pertaining to previous HVAC work on particular pieces of equipment, the paperless application can also utilise the mobile device features such as camera, GPS, RFID (NFC) and barcode reader, clock (for automatic date and time stamp) enabling quick identification of equipment, identifying points of entry and exit, improving efficiency, and minimising human errors.

The database

HVAC paperless applications should not be standalone to maximise utilisation and ROI, and should be designed from the outset to collect information, display and manipulate information, and transfer information to and from a database (backend) seamlessly. The database application should provide a variety of operational and management functions including scheduling, tracking, corrective actions, client access, trend and forecasts, management functions, reports, and analysis tools.

Combining software with iPads/Tablets for automating HVAC inspections, servicing and repairs

Key benefits include automatically transferring data from the tablet to the database without the need for further data entry or ‘manual’ data reformulation; increasing productivity and profitability through effective completion of tasks, simplifying repeatable tasks and providing staff with easy to use tools that focus on performing tasks; incorporating mechanisms to focus on exceptions and ensure proper execution of tasks, including automatic listing of activities, reminders, alerts, escalation procedures, and easy access to information, ensuring that HVAC inspections, servicing and repairs are performed according to guidelines, codes and regulations; and improving controls and accountability, leading to better quality of work.

Finding the right paperless solution

Finding the right paperless solution for the HVAC technician involves first determining what the solution should achieve for the user, followed by evaluating the features offered by different HVAC paperless solution providers and how they match up to the application requirements, and then assessing the best value and fit in terms of customisation flexibility and cost.

This evaluation process should also help one estimate the cost of the paperless solution in terms of ROI. Calculate the savings from minimising data entry efforts, speeding up information flow and information accuracy, and ensuring easy access to customer queries and audits among others. Once a value is fixed on the tangible and intangible benefits and savings, one will have an idea of how much should be spent on such a paperless system. Ideally, the return on investment occurs within 6-12 months.

Techs4Biz Australia offers Pervidi products, which combine service management, asset management, maintenance management and inspection management functionalities to improve operational efficiencies and reduce costs.

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