CRANE, Ind. -- Advances in technology can greatly enhance a depot's efficiency and effectiveness, but integrating those advances can take pioneering and innovation. Last April, Jonna Gerkin jumped at a chance to advance the use of technology at Crane Army Ammunition Activity when she learned it was not possible for the Manufacturing and Engineering Directorate to use a set of tablets because of safety restrictions on production lines.
Gerkin asked if she could implement the Toughbook Tablets in her own directorate, Depot Operations, instead of sending them back and show her coworkers how this kind of technology could positively impact their daily routine at CAAA.
"I deal with the crews a lot, and I noticed that there was a lot of lost or weather damaged paperwork," Gerkin, CAAA supply technician, said. "With the tablets everything is contained in one space, it's digital and the information is translated into type so it's more legible and easier for everyone to read."
The tablet technology is being used to bridge the communication gap between office personnel and field crews, to effectively keep track of important documents, and save time, resources and money. Currently, crews are returning to the office only twice a day to hand in paper work from multiple deliveries so that office personnel can put the information into the computer. A tablet allows crews to hand in their information after each delivery digitally, essentially streamlining the process and shortening the turnaround time.
The tablets are still in the early stages of being fully implemented into a total of 20 field crews and six working leaders, however when looking at the number of miles driven and hours spent on the job it is clear that the Toughbooks will have an impact on CAAA. "We estimated about $590,000 per year in cost avoidance, which really means saving a half a million dollars worth of direct labor hours that we can now apply somewhere else," Col. James Hooper, CAAA commander said.
Gerkin has been an instrumental part in putting the tablets out in the field and has been working with the logistics of implementing the Toughbooks. These tablets are durable and have capabilities beyond the standard issued desktop.
Toughbooks can survive a six foot drop onto cement, making them ideal for use in the field. They also give the user the ability to draw free hand, something that cannot be done on a desktop. The tablets have the capability to filter, sort and find information quickly, and Gerkin realizes the effect this aspect of the technology will have on the crews' workload.
Toughbooks will eliminate several issues that have occurred in Depot Operations, including the problematic length of planographs, illegibility, and paper waste.
"It makes a big difference in several areas," Gerkin said. "One example is the use of planographs, which is the inventory of the building the crew goes into--some of those documents can be 26 to 40 pages in length." Lengthy planographs take time to read, in turn taking up time that could be used to move on to the next shipment. "The Toughbooks can actually find what you're looking for and match up with what the crews' workload is for the day," Gerkin said.
The technology also saves times and vehicle mileage throughout the work day. The tablets have a digital map. Right now, crews have a physical map that is roughly 150 pages in length. To locate the correct magazine, crews must look up the number in the map and thumb through pages to make sure they are taking the right roads to the right magazine before they get too far out into the field. This could take up to several minutes. With the tablet, a crew member can type in the building number and in seconds it will come up on the screen.
"Having the tablet cuts a significant amount of time out of my workload," Ryan Gerkin, CAAA material handler leader, said. "When I'm out in the field and need to download a document, the tablet can cut as much as a half hour off my work time. The tablet gives me the ability to stop at another building close by, log in, and turn in a document. Before I would have to drive all the way back to the office to log in, and then drive all the way back out to meet another crew in the field."
Ryan Gerkin is one of two working leaders using the tablet on a daily basis to run crews in the field. While the use of the tablet has so far positively impacted his workload, Ryan Gerkin said he realized that once all employees involved in the process go digital, the amount of time saved will be significant.
"If everyone else in the chain would switch to digital instead of sticking to paper, my day would go even quicker. Instead of having to ruffle through several different scan sheets, it's all there electronically, where I can email documents or drop them into a shared file for others in the chain to access," Ryan Gerkin said.
Robin Lawyer is another working leader that used the tablet to lead crews. After using the tablet, he realized that with each day it became easier and easier to use. Even though he only used it for a short time, Lawyer was impressed by the tablet.
"From my experience, I feel as though the tablets could simplify the recording of many tasks, reduce the amount of paper that is wasted, and more effectively distribute information as it is needed," Lawyer said. "During the time I was using the tablet on a daily basis, I 'loved' it so to speak, I had no paper waste and was able to download planographs as I needed them in the field."
So far the tablets have been successful in the field and the office by saving time and reducing waste. However, there are some obstacles that need to be overcome in order to ensure that the Toughbooks can work at full capacity.
"The Wi-Fi has been a bit of an issue," Jonna Gerkin said. "We're lacking some hotspots out in the field that we could really use. It would make a big difference."
Ryan Gerkin agreed, noting that the Wi-Fi system is a challenge that needs to be overcome. "Some places it doesn't work, some places it does, and then the next day it won't work in the same place it worked the day before, or it isn't as strong as the previous day."
Another issue that will need to be addressed is the training process for employees that will use the tablets. From the few employees that have used them, the need for proper training and an adjustment period is already an aspect of the tablets that will require attention from management.
"As a crew leader, I would need to have more opportunities to adjust to using the tablet in regard to situations that require more detail," Lawyer said of his experience with the Toughbook.
Although Ryan Gerkin is Microsoft certified, and did not have any issues adjusting to tablet use, he can see how employees will need to be allotted a period of adjustment.
"Everyone will need to have some kind of training, and there will be some kind of learning curve," Ryan Gerkin said. "I think that if there was a classroom training to understand what ribbons are, and how to use different applications in Microsoft and Adobe Reader, and then an opportunity to come out to the field for three or four days' worth of training to actually have someone with them to show them how to use the application as they're doing it, it would be beneficial."
Jonna Gerkin said she realizes that there are aspects of the tablet implementation that will need to be worked around, but so far feedback has been helpful in realizing where there are areas of weakness.
"I've had both good and bad feedback, and the field crews have really worked with me well to work out the bugs and the kinks," Jonna Gerkin said. "At the end of the day if the tablets don't function for the crews in the field, then there's no use for them for anyone in the office, because the device's main use is for us to feed information to the crews while they are out in the field."
The goal of introducing the tablets is to ensure that CAAA's mission is done as effectively and efficiently as possible. With the determination from Crane Army employees, the transition to digital will help to complete that mission, while also saving time, money and resources.
"I think this is probably the first big step towards more extensively automating the receive, store and ship function of our mission here," Hooper said. "Our workforce has always been very good at adopting new technology and figuring out how to make it work for us. This is a great example of that."
Established Oct. 1977, Crane Army Ammunition Activity produces and provides logistical support to meet conventional munitions requirements in support of Joint Force readiness. It is one of 17 installations of the Joint Munitions Command and one of 23 organic industrial bases under the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which include arsenals, depots, activities and ammunition plants.