Biting the Apple
September 1, 2011
It’s 9.5 inches high, a little over 7 inches wide, and weighs a bit more than a pound. The Apple iPad may look meager, but the impact it is having on HVAC and sheet metal contractors is enormous.
When the device came out in April 2010, consumers flooded Apple Stores to get their hands on one, surprising some pundits who were skeptical the public would take to a tablet-style computer. Many stores sold out in hours.
A repeat of the frenzy happened in March when Apple released its iPad2, a slimmer version with a camera for video chatting.
It seems there is almost nothing the iPad can’t do. And with “3G” or third-generation models, customers can search the Web or download their favorite music and movies from almost anywhere. While the iPad sounds like mostly fun and games, many HVAC and sheet metal contractors see it as an important tool for their businesses. For these people, the iPad is revolutionizing day-to-day company operations.
Charge itJust ask Michael Sobczyk. When the iPad was first unveiled, Sobczyk said he was excited to see what the tablet could do.
“I try to keep up with technology as much as I can,” said the owner of Lansing, Mich.-based Friendly Heating & Cooling.
But after his first experience with the iPad, Sobczyk found he wasn’t too crazy about it. The tablet looked like just an oversized version of an iPhone, he said. However, after a few months, Sobczyk realized that perhaps his criticism was too harsh and maybe it had some professional possibilities.
So Sobczyk gave an iPad to each of his three technicians. It immediately changed the way he does business.
“We’ve been using it mainly for invoicing,” he said. “It gives us the ability to go paperless.”
Most of Friendly Heating & Cooling’s customers are residential. When a technician arrives at a customer’s home and does an inspection, he or she can provide everything needed to close the sale by turning on the iPad. The technician can create a paperless invoice on the screen for customers to review.
“We can do proposals right then and there,” said Sobzyck.
Once the customer has accepted the proposal, the technician can run the homeowner’s credit card through the iPad with a downloaded application. Next, instead of printing out a physical receipt to the homeowner, the iPad will immediately send an electronic copy to their e-mail address.
Sobzyck said that customers are “really amazed when we run credit cards.”
Not only does the iPad make Friendly Heating & Cooling look tech-savvy to customers, it also closes sales much quicker, he added. Technicians no longer need to go back to the office to create proposals, receipts or charge credit cards. All of this information can be stored in a customer history file. This is especially beneficial if a different technician has to go back to the same home. The tech can pull up that customer’s history on the iPad and find out what work was previously done.
AnswersThe iPad is also making it easier for Sobczyk’s technicians to find answers when they are outside the office.
“If a technician is at a jobsite and needs a question answered, they can go right to Google,” he said.
That is the exact same advantage that Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning in Rochester, N.Y., has found with its iPads. The commercial and residential HVAC company has provided each of its field supervisors with an iPad. Like Sobczyk, company President Ray Isaac took a wait-and-see approach before adopting the technology into the company.
Isaac said his company likes to “dabble” before they jump into anything new. So far, the dabbling is paying off. If one of his supervisors is in the field and has a question about a product, that person can “get on Google and gets answers on equipment faster than by calling a supply house.”
The iPad is always in a “dormant” state, meaning it never needs to be turned on or booted up. Just push one button, slide over the bar on the screen, open a Web browser, and questions can be answered in seconds.
For example, Isaac said if a technician needs information on a Rheem furnace while on a call, he or she can type in the product name in a Google search and “100,000 responses come back ranked in order.”
Technicians can also get specific information on a project. Like Friendly Heating & Cooling, Isaac Heating and Air Conditioning has connected its iPads to company files and work history. Now when technicians go out, they don’t need to finger through paperwork to find the history on a job. They just fire up the iPad and search job-history files on the tablet.
InformationMore than 2,500 miles away from Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Cabrillo Plumbing & Heating in San Francisco is also finding that the iPad is a great source for storing information. Jeff Meehan, president and general manager of the company, said “We like to consider ourselves a progressive company,” and having iPads fits that image.
With that in mind, the commercial and residential HVAC and plumbing business purchased 10 iPads, four of which are being used by HVAC technicians. For those technicians, they no longer need to carry around Cabrillo’s bulky pricing binder.
Since the company is strictly flat-rate pricing, each technician needed to have a company binder with all the prices for each type of job. However, all of those prices and rates have been transferred to the iPad. Technicians no longer need to “carry volumes and volumes” of paperwork, Meehan said.
Cabrillo puts all of its employee policies and procedures on the tablet as well, making the employee manual obsolete.
The iPad has also replaced all of the company’s global positioning systems. Meehan said that each of his service vehicles were equipped with dashboard GPS systems to help technicians navigate around the Bay Area. But since many iPad models have built-in GPS systems, technicians can log onto the iPad and get directions. Meehan said this has helped the company cutback on expenses and extra gadgets.
CustomersCustomers of Cabrillo are also benefitting from the way the company is using the iPad to provide information, according to Rob Burkett, a service technician at Cabrillo. He said the iPad has been great for sales presentations. Burkett can create a PowerPoint presentation about a job, load it to the iPad, and show it to the customer.
“We used to do a lot of drawing on paper,” Burkett said. “(Customers) can see visually what needs to be done.”
The iPad is not only helping Cabrillo technicians to start a job for customers, but even during the performance of the job itself.
The company has downloaded HVAC applications from the Apple iTunes store. These applications include HVAC Load Plus, HVAC Quick Load and Equipment Locator, all from Carmel Software Corp. of California. These apps are helping Cabrillo technicians with load calculations, duct sizing and residential heat loss.
“There is no time spent on a calculator,” Meehan said.
The technician just takes the measurements for the job, plugs them into the iPad apps, and coordinates are provided. This has helped the company with its accuracy and efficiency. Meehan said that when technicians need to measure anything for a job, they use electronic tape measurers with infrared lights. These tape measurers will provide accurate dimensions. Those dimensions are than keyed into the mobile app, which creates the calculations.
Meehan said one of the best benefits is that all of these calculations can be saved on the iPad. This allows Cabrillo to prove that a piece of equipment was sized correctly.
“We don’t want homeowners coming back to us saying we oversized or undersized their furnace,” said Meehan.
He also said that Apple also wants Cabrillo Plumbing & Heating to get everything right when it comes to the iPad.
The company purchased its iPads from the Apple Store in Emeryville, Calif. Cabrillo has been working with the employees at that store, as well as with an Apple business specialist, to make sure they are using the iPads to their full potential. Apple has helped Cabrillo staff understand everything the devices can accomplish.
“Apple is very much aware of what we’re doing,” said Meehan. “They want us to succeed.”
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting in the app gameIf you’ve ever seen the TV commercials for the Apple iPad or iPhone, then you probably know the company’s slogan: “There’s an app for that.”
Now, only four years after Apple popularized the mobile application, many HVAC trade associations and manufacturers can also say the same.
As more and more HVAC and sheet metal contractors purchase iPads, the industry is trying to keep up by creating digital versions of its offerings. The Air Conditioning Contractors of America launched a digital version of its DuctWheel in April. For $19.99, a contractor can download the DuctWheel to the iPad. Plug in the measurements and the ACCA DuctWheel will provide accurate duct-sizing measurements.
Even the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has unveiled its “HVAC ASHRAE Duct Fitting Database.” ASHRAE says the app allows contractors to perform pressure loss calculations for more than 240 different duct fittings.
And HVAC software companies are seeing the benefits of the iPad. Maxwell Systems introduced a mobile version of its ProContractorMX software. The free app allows contractors to use the ProContractorMX application in the field via iPad. The Maxwell Systems software tracks everything a contractor needs for a job, including all the details on a specific project.
Karl Rajotte, director of product management for MEP at Maxwell Systems, said that every contractor is aware of the “big binder” they have to carry around on the job. That binder has all of the information on a project, from change orders to pricing. But the iPad has changed all of that. All that information can be stored on the iPad with the help of ProContractrorMX.
ProContractorMX and iPad have made it possible for a contractor to look at a job and make changes in the field. When a contractor visits a site and needs information, all he has to do is “pull it up on his iPad,” said Rajotte.
Once the project plans are pulled up, he can look at the entire layout. He can even make changes to the layout if needed and code them in different colors. As long as the contractor has a connection, project changes can be made with the iPad. And with 3G, Rajotte said that contractors “can be connected all of the time.”
But why not have all of these HVAC applications on a standard laptop?
According to Rajotte, the iPad has made projects more efficient because the contractor no longer needs to boot up a laptop. He said the best part of the iPad is that it is always “on,” in a dormant state. Just push the button at the bottom of the iPad, slide over the bar on the screen, and the contractor is instantly connected.
“That’s what I love the most,” Rajotte said.
He also loves that Maxwell Systems is finding success with its ProContractorMX mobile connection. Since the mobile app was offered in January, Maxwell Systems has sold 90 for the iPad.