Todd Pacific: PDAs Help Keep Shipyard on Course

By Evan Schuman Print this article Print

The CIO picked PDAs to replace time cards and clocks as a way to improve project management and worker safety. But the new system had to meet airtight security standards.

At Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle, management knows that accurately tracking employees, including the hours and projects they've worked, and assessing daily staffing needs is often the difference between running a tight ship or sinking it.

With that in mind, the shipyard in 2000 invested $250,000 to replace a traditional time card system—punch cards and clocks—with one that now uses PDAs, a wireless network and a home-built software application that securely records each employee's time and work assignment. The system helps shipyard managers determine each day if they have the right number of machinists, pipefitters, electricians and welders to work on projects that range from overhauling nuclear aircraft carriers to building new ferries.

"If we don't have work for them, they get laid off immediately," says Mike Taylor, chief information officer at Todd Pacific from 1998 through October 2005, when he retired; Taylor is now a consultant for the company. "We wanted to get off those time cards and get visibility into where everyone was working at all times."

The new system, which paid for itself in less than a year, allows Todd Pacific managers to better plan and execute jobs at the 46-acre shipyard. That's because project managers can immediately access the schedules and activities of 800 or so employees, and know which skilled workers are available for a particular assignment. If the shipyard has work to support only 10 plumbers, instead of 20, project managers will furlough the employees.

Electronic collection of an employee's daily activities also makes it easier to prepare payroll and bill customers for work, according to Taylor.

Todd Pacific, which does work for both military and commercial customers, started with 65 Dolphin PDAs. It later moved to wireless Symbol 1846 handhelds running the Palm operating system and then, in 2004, started shifting to PocketPCs—and away from Palm-based PDAs—because, Taylor says, the PocketPCs gave the shipyard more power for more sophisticated transactions. Today, the shipyard uses 125 PDAs to track employees and their time. PDAs were chosen over laptops because the PDAs are smaller, lighter and easier to move from one job to the next.

The PDAs are placed in central work areas, such as a boiler room. When a worker arrives, he takes his identification card, which includes a bar code, and runs it through the reader on one of the two or three PDAs at the work site—in effect, acting as the time stamp recording that the employee has started work.

The PDA then transmits that information via a wireless network that uses the 801.11b standard to a Hewlett-Packard server, which automatically updates payroll, accounts payable and project management records—reporting the names of employees, arrival and departure times, and the projects they're working on. The PDAs connect via 33 access points—23 wired and 10 wireless—on the shipyard grounds.

Story Guide:
Todd Pacific: PDAs Help Keep Shipyard on Course

  • Even Hardened PDAs Were Tough to Implement
  • PDA Net Still Pays Off
  • Handhelds Replaces Time Reporting System
  • Todd Pacific Base Case

    Next page: Even Hardened PDAs Were Tough to Implement

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    This article was originally published on 2006-03-06
    Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.
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