Equipping key personnel in the field with touch-screen tablet computers loaded with construction application software designed to work with a tablet will keep everyone up-to-date on project information, and fully informed on project details and issues throughout the day.

Tablets with the ability to use a special stylus as a pen as well as a finger for touch input make it easy for anyone in the field to input data.

Depending upon the software solution, tablet-carrying personnel can access and distribute plans and drawings, electronically capture and verify status and progress of projects, take notes and draw sketches, and create PDF files and e-mail them out for updating, evaluation or resolution. Some software is also configured to streamline work lists, schedules, checklists, repair lists and punch lists.

The continual communication helps keep projects on time and within budget. Tablets used in the field enable faster decision-making. The real-time information gathering improves efficiencies through on-going collaboration, reduces travel and results in fewer errors by eliminating duplicate data input. Here's a tablet designed especially for field use that can be ordered with construction software pre-loaded, so it's ready to travel right out of the box.

Motion J3500 Tablet PC, www.motioncomputing.com, enables full PC functionality for mobile field applications. The tablet, which is optimized for computing while standing or walking, is available with dual touch technology, so users can input data with a pen stylus or through finger touch.

The capability for stylus input enables you to take advantage of easy "writing in" of data when filling out forms, capturing customer signatures or inputting handwritten notes and sketches. Switching to touch interaction lets you, with a pinch or the tap of a finger, scroll, pan, rotate and zoom through long web pages and documents, look up information on the web and navigate the task bar.

Weighing in at 3.6 pounds and running on a hot swappable dual battery that provides up to seven hours of continuous use, the Motion J3500 features a 12.1-in. LED backlight digitizer wide screen display. The tablet has an internal magnesium frame for structural rigidity, port covers and a rubberized coating for dampening shock. It features rounded corners for comfortable carrying and slip-free surface to help prevent drops, and IP and MIL-STD-810G standards. The tablet comes with WiFi, optional Bluetooth wireless connectivity and optional WWAN mobile broadband (Gobi). A built-in digital camera with illuminator light and image software is available, as is a geo-tagging and date-stamping feature to document proof of work via available GPS technology. An optional attachable ergonomically designed lightweight shoulder strap makes it an easy hands-free tote.

The Motion Tablet can be adapted for office use. A FlexDock docking station with integrated battery charger provides full desktop replacement and additional battery life. Four data input modes are possible: pen, touch, voice and attachable mobile keyboard.

The Motion tablet can be especially configured to run specific field management software, including, for example, Vela Field Management software. The Vela Field Management Suite, www.velasystems.com, includes a web-based and offline application for all field and management users that was built to maximize the potential of field computers like the Motion J3500, with the software and the tablet together essentially replacing the field notebook. The solution, which has an app available for the Apple iPad as well, enabled by an Internet connection, provides access to all documents, field activities and reports on one website and accepts input directly on the screen by stylus or touch.

Modules include field reports, work lists, punch lists, schedule updates, QA/QC checklists (with over 220 checklists organized by MasterFormat), and a library that stores the latest plans, specifications, drawings, images, reference materials, company policies and other project documents for easy reference and distribution. With continual access to the updated data in real time, contractors gain the ability to identify risks and issues much faster and share the information for quicker resolution.

A commissioning and handover module captures all system and equipment information electronically in the field, enabling tracking, filtering and reporting on equipment by name, status or company. The e-mail module allows Blackberry or other e-mail-compatible device users on a jobsite to take photos and send them into Vela for management.

Two other solutions that work well with the Motion tablet or other tablets:

Latista Field, www.latista.com, is a Tablet PC mobile and back-office web-based solution designed to handle construction processes including field management, commissioning, punch list management, quality and safety management, and warranty and maintenance management.

Bluebeam PDF Revu, www.bluebeam.com, enables complete PDF creating, viewing, markup and editing for tablet PC users, using the tablet stylus. Key features include the ability to store ink components, signatures, stamps and other markups in a tool set, ability to add text to PDF files with a built-in TIP, batch conversion of PDFs to nine other formats, including TIFF, JPEG, Bitmap, GIF and WMF, and a built-in measurement tool.

Bill and Patti Feldman are freelance writers for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com.