American Tugs is a family-owned Puerto Rican company that first began operating a small fleet of tugs in 2002. They started out using only paper and continued like that for well over a decade. Knowing that the new Subchapter M regulations were coming in July 2018, they decided to make the switch from paper to Helm CONNECT, and soon became the first company in the Caribbean to earn a certificate of inspections (COI) through the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
Fuelled by this accomplishment, American Tugs was motivated to continue digitizing their operations. Their next goal was to connect iPads to local installations of Helm CONNECT onboard their vessels so the crew could use them to complete forms and maintenance routines even while offline.
Pedro Rivera Jr, VP of Operations for American Tugs, told us that wanting their crew to use Helm CONNECT on iPads really came down to flexibility. “A computer is stuck on a desk, but when you’re doing forms and maintenance routines you have to go all over the vessel. My guys would fill everything out on a note pad and then sit down at the computer and enter all the same information into Helm CONNECT. To us, it made sense to use something you could take around the vessel with you. We thought by introducing iPads onboard, our crew would no longer have to go back and forth across the vessel to the computer, so data would be entered into the system faster and less errors would occur.”
American Tugs has been using iPads onboard for about a year now, but they admit that there was a steep learning curve to getting them up and running the way they wanted. First, they had to find the right devices to suit their needs, then they had to set the networks up on the vessels and connect the iPads so their crew could continue using Helm CONNECT, even without an internet connection.
Finding The Right Devices
Finding the right devices was a process of trial and error for the team. They first tried mid-range Windows tablets, but they lacked power and had very few options for cases and accessories to protect them from the wear and tear they’d go through onboard. Next, they looked at iPads and decided quickly that they were the best way to go. Although the most expensive option, iPads have the power to manage large amounts of data in Helm CONNECT, are durable, and offer an extensive selection of protective cases and accessories.
Setting the Networks up and Connecting the iPads
When setting the networks up on the vessels, Roberto Rivera, Information Systems Director, set each vessel up like a self contained remote office with its own local ethernet and wireless networks, as well as a computer with a local installation of Helm CONNECT, which acts as the Helm CONNECT server for each vessel. “Then I did some networking magic (essentially tweaking the firewall, and routing rules) so any mobile device that connects to the Wi-Fi can access the local installation of Helm CONNECT,” Roberto explained. “This lets our crew use the iPads to complete maintenance routines even while the vessel is offline. The iPads are always in sync with the computer onboard, almost like they’re a second monitor, so no data is ever lost. Then whenever the vessel connects to the internet again, the computer onboard syncs up with the shore-side server. Figuring this out is the hardest part of the process, but you invest in it once and then you’re set up.”
Using iPads on their vessels has had a huge impact for American Tugs. “It’s still the full Helm CONNECT experience—everything you can do on the computer you can do on the iPad too—but the iPad is portable,” Pedro told us. “It has increased our crew’s efficiency by 2 or 3 times because they no longer have to go back and forth across the vessel to the computer just to copy data from paper to Helm CONNECT. It gets more accurate information into Helm CONNECT faster so management gets a more immediate view of what’s going on and can make better-informed decisions.”
He added, “There’s definitely a cost benefit to doing just one local installation on each vessel and centralizing it like we have. I’d say we’ve saved roughly 70 percent in set up costs by reducing the number of expensive computers onboard and the number of people needed to maintain them. It’s also given us the infrastructure we need to take the next step toward setting up other technologies to continue streamlining our operations.”
Using Helm CONNECT on iPads is already having positive results for American Tugs. It’s been a great start towards digitizing their operations, but their creative ideas don’t stop there. Next, Roberto wants to eliminate the need for their crew to enter data manually by using smart technologies that would connect directly to their network and push information into Helm CONNECT.
We love the innovative ways our customers are using Helm CONNECT to streamline and improve their businesses, and we’re here to support them every step of the way. Reach out to our team to learn more about using Helm CONNECT with iPads onboard your vessels or to book a demo.