Updated: Jun 1, 2022
More than half of State DOTs collect inspection data the old-fashioned way – writing everything down using pen and paper. The traditional method of using paper-based data collection forms can be very challenging and time-consuming.
Inspectors need to carry a lot of materials such as paper forms, inspection manuals, cheat sheets, previous reports, cameras, GPS units, etc. to collect and record data in the field.
The issue doesn’t end here – data collected through paper-based forms need to be later re-entered into a computer software manually. Photos need to be manually uploaded and associated with relevant data fields as well. Add to this the lack of any data validation rules and the process becomes very labor-intensive and prone to errors resulting in lower data quality. The entire workflow typically leads to a wastage of 2 – 4 hours per inspection. For an average of 5000 inspections per year, the wastage amounts to roughly 15000 hours which could have been spent on carrying out more thorough inspections and better data collection.
Recent advancements in mobile technologies have made it possible for inspectors to use tablets for field data collection thereby rendering the entire process paperless. It helps improve productivity by saving time and making bridge inspection easier, faster, and more accurate compared to the traditional method.
What is tablet-based bridge inspection?
Instead of carrying paper-based forms, tablet-based bridge inspection involves using tablets pre-loaded with a bridge inspection software like inspectX to collect inspection data in the field. Data can be entered directly into electronic forms or databases. Based on the availability of the internet, data can either be immediately uploaded into the server or stored to be uploaded later. It streamlines the inspection workflow and reduces the time required for each inspection significantly.
3 Benefits of tablet-based bridge inspection over paper-based forms
1. Less items to carry
Tablet-based bridge inspection software eliminates the need to carry multiple units to the field for inspection. Advancements in tablet technologies such as GPS and speech-to-text functionalities, digital photography, wireless networks, etc. have converged to provide significant capabilities in field data collection.
Inspectors can record their observations using the speech-to-text functionality making inspections faster and more efficient. The in-built GPS functionality proves useful in getting directions to the bridge eliminating the need to carry GPS units. The tablet camera can be used to take inspection photos.
Moreover, these apps come with references to the NBIS Coding Guide and historical data allowing the process to become completely paperless.
Short video – How inspectX works
2. Faster and accurate inspection process
With paper forms collecting bridge inspection data is often laborious. After collecting data in the field, inspectors have to deal with double data entry once they are back in the office. The absence of data validation rules can lead to serious mistakes in data collection. Paper forms may also get lost, damaged, or misplaced.
On the contrary, tablet-based inspection apps like inspectX can help inspectors collect inspection data without the inspection manual as they contain in-built references from the NBIS Coding Guide and the AASHTO Element Manual to ensure data accuracy. These apps contain the historical data of what has changed, been deleted, or added, making it easier to track changes over time. If there are multiple inspectors, the software can make it easier to divide the inspection work and complete it faster.
These apps can also operate in an offline mode allowing inspectors to collect data even in bridges with low or no cell coverage. Data collected can be later synced into the server when internet is available which reduces the need for manual data re-entry back in the office, making the process efficient and streamlined.
3. Easier image processing
During data collection, inspectors need to take inspection photos which is traditionally done using cameras. These images are later downloaded to computer, renamed, and associated with data fields manually which is a time-intensive and tedious task. With a bridge inspection app, inspectors can take photos straight from the tablet, add captions and notes, and tie the photos to particular defects, elements, or NBI items. These apps also turn the tablet into a multi-functional digital sketchpad where inspectors can draw, import photos, or markup any inspection photo or plan sheet, which cannot be done with cameras.
Transitioning to tablet-based bridge inspection may be a cause for worry for many inspectors who are used to the conventional paper-based forms. However, tablet-based bridge inspection apps offer significant advantages over paper-based forms which makes the transition easier.
Equipped with intuitive and easy-to-use apps inspectors can collect inspection data, take photos, and draw sketches from the palm of their hands. They can build on top of previous inspection data and look up the inspection manual in the app without flipping through heavy volumes of inspection manuals. Back in the office or when internet is available, they can upload inspection data at the click of a button.
These apps empower inspectors to focus on what they do best – inspect bridges quickly and efficiently without worrying about heaps of paperwork and manual data entry.