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Industry Viewpoint

Using Electrical Apps in the Field

Back in July 2011, we published our first article on software apps being used in the electrical market (“An App for That”). References were made to GPS-based apps, camera phone-based apps, document viewing apps, and more. A year later, I presented some growth projections in the app market and listed some specific technical-based apps in my Industry Viewpoint, which I’d run across in my travels and heard about through discussions with readers (“Rise of the Apps”). I also took the opportunity to ask you to share some of your favorite apps with me. Based on the feedback I received from this request and additional research uncovered by the EC&M editorial team, we felt it was worthwhile to revisit this topic and present some new real-life examples of how readers are using electrical apps to get the job done.

Our cover story this month, “The New Stance on IT,” provides a more recent snapshot of how electrical engineers, electrical contractors, electrical technicians, and electricians are using the power of mobile device software to complete their daily work activities. We learned how field workers are using smartphone and tablet PC apps to help them properly bend and size conduit. They’re also using apps to check voltage drop levels, perform load calculations, and size wire/cable for branch circuits and feeders. Service professionals are using information sharing and communications apps to meet today’s accelerated pace of business. Engineers are relying on apps to aid in product selection, verify adherence to new and revised code requirements, and even monitor and control their customer’s electrical systems. Plant engineers and technicians rely on apps to monitor energy usage, manage maintenance activities, and analyze the merits of upgrades.

After reading this story, I think you’ll have a hard time denying the merits of mobile technology in today’s workplace. But I’d like to point out a couple of items that concern me. The first focuses on end-users blindly following the results of an app calculation without truly having a firm grasp on the “old school” way of calculating the result. The second deals with the mental and physical distractions caused by the use of mobile devices while on the job.

If you have any experience at all with software programs and apps, you know how easy it is to plug in some data fields and get a quick answer. If you don’t have the right level of experience with the task at hand, you might improperly apply the app calculation and/or its subsequent results. This is especially a concern with entry-level workers or those with limited real-world experience. Although each of us needs to police ourselves in this area, I think it puts even more pressure on supervisors and managers to closely monitor individuals who report to them. What concerns me even more, however, is the danger that can arise from distracted use of mobile devices. We’re all guilty of pulling out our smartphone and checking messages at any given moment. We do it in the middle of performing a task in the field. We do it while walking around the job site. We even do it on the factory floor near working machinery and moving vehicles. Getting distracted when performing work near energized equipment or during a dangerous test and measurement task could be life threatening.

Each and every one of us needs to first take a moment and really assess our actions when placed in these situations. Set up a list of basic rules to follow using your smartphone or mobile PC. Clearly define where and when it’s appropriate to use mobile devices and under what circumstances. After getting your own actions in order, make sure you do the same for those individuals you supervise. With the addiction level we all seem to have reached with our mobile devices, it’s imperative for you to create rules in this area in order to help prevent individuals from hurting themselves or others on your watch.

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