iDrawnics, www.idrawnics.com, is an easy to use 3D CAD plug-in system for small shop mechanical contractors and system designers who cannot afford the expense, time or personnel required for commercially available CAD programs. Designed for use with SketchUp, a free drawing program by Google, it was developed to minimize the amount of time and trial and error it takes to install a mechanical system from a flat sheet, two dimensional schematic. The program gives a 3D visualization of pipe runs and fittings and parts.
The program, developed by Larry Drake, founder and past executive director of the Radiant Panel Association (now the Radiant Professionals Alliance), enables users to experimentally “guess, cut and fit” on the computer in 3D beforehand and then work from a 3D CAD drawing, including a cut schedule for pipe, a process that, notes Drake, can result in a faster and smoother installation.
With a laptop computer or tablet on the job, the installer can spin, zoom and rotate the drawing to see exactly where each part goes. A 3D CAD drawing also shows the customer how his system will look before a single pipe is cut.
iDrawnics includes a “drag-and-drop” plugin that utilizes the SketchUp program, and pre-drawn system components that work with iDrawnics’ tool bar and can be purchased from the iDrawnics online store and added to a personal library on the user’s computer. According to Drake, a complete system can be designed using the iDrawnics toolbar and iDrawnics components.
Learning to draw a system with iDrawnics is, suggests Drake, similar to learning the controls for onscreen video games — draw the pipe paths (as would be drawn in a 2D schematic) and then drag and “snap on” components such as pumps, valves and fittings from the library. The “click and flip” feature allows the components to be quickly oriented on the pipe path. The pipe mates to the components and can be stretched to length. (The stretching is dimensioned.)
The program keeps track of parts utilized in the schematic and the user can generate a Time and Materials report, complete with pipe lengths and equipment costs, at any time.
A more full-featured version of the program, iDrawnics Pro gives users the ability to draw their own components and enable them with the functions required to work with the iDrawnics plugin. (If the user is proficient in drawing, components can be submitted to iDrawnics for inclusion in the online store with revenue sharing.) Also, the iDrawnics.com website includes a request option to suggest specific brand and model parts to supplement the existing collection of generic parts available in the store.
ServiceM8, www.servicem8.com, is a cloud-based iPad/iPhone app aimed at small contractors active in field services. It offers several core functionalities for running a business day, including the ability to create professional looking quotes and invoices, and to schedule and manage jobs.
The program supports adding written notes for each job and using Siri to dictate text and attaching them, along with photos and other documents, for access at any time. A dispatch board shows the location of all personnel relative to a jobsite, enabling assignment of techs closest to an urgent service call.
The app, which integrates with two popular accounting packages (XERO and QuickBooks), also works with a variety of free add-ons, including Track My Arrival that allows customers to see staff arriving in real-time via SMS; Partial/Progress Invoicing, for long term jobs; and Customer Feedback, a forum for comments. A forms module facilitates developing fully integrated forms that can take a field technician through a series of questions and produce a quote, a safety check list, or a report based on the answers given. A form completed in the field, with signature if required, can be viewed back in the office in real time, e-mailed to customers or suppliers, and stored for future reference.
ServiceM8 can also take payments directly and supports the ability to take credit card payment in the field and send customers an e-mail or SMS invoice, which a customer can pay directly through a web browser (using the payment service Stripe).
Using the Activity Feed feature, contractors can generate daily/weekly reports on the number of new jobs, jobs completed, and jobs still active; post jobsite photos; and send field technicians notification of their next scheduled job, including estimated travel time to the site.
The app is free for the first 20 jobs per month, then there is a sliding fee scale based on the number of jobs monthly.
TurboScan by Piksoft Inc., and available at iTunes and Google stores, turns iPhone and Android phones into a multipage scanner for documents, notes, receipts, whiteboards, and other text, for storage or email as multipage PDF or JPEG files. The app auto-detects document edges, straightens the document for corrective perspective, eliminates shadows, and has one-tap brightness, rotation and color controls.
Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at [email protected].