Using a Tablet PC with your Logbook to Maximize Efficiency in the Field
Traditionally, geologists use pencil and paper when logging soil descriptions, drilling tests, and well diagrams in the field. We wanted to see if we could speed up this process using a field computer. We tested a fully ruggedized Yuma2 tablet computer (retail value of $3500) and a consumer grade Dell Venue 8 (retail value $250). Both computers run a full version of Windows 7 or 8. So, we were able to run the Field Version of QuickLog borehole log software that is designed to run on tablet computers. Other tablet computers running Windows 7 or 8 would also suffice.
Before going into the field, we used QuickLog to create "pick lists" of common soil descriptions (USCS, color, moisture, angularity, etc.). Examples: Well Graded Gravel (GW): , reddish brown (10R 3/12). After the lists are created, a user is able to add the text of the list item with just one click of the mouse or stylus. Whether the user is in the office or the field, pick lists quicken data entry and help standardize the way multiple geologists describe soil.
We timed logging via pencil-paper vs. logging directly into the tablet computer. Our borings were about 20 feet deep. Writing on our log template sheets of paper attached to a clipboard, it took about 10 to 15 minutes to log the soil descriptions. This time included examining the soil material. The time it took to log directly into either computer varied. It was much faster than writing if the user could cut and paste several descriptions. And, it sped up over time as the user became more accustomed to the pick lists. But overall, the direct logging method wasn't significantly faster than the pencil-paper method because significant time is spent examining the soil samples.
The logging time with each computer was about the same - the experience with the Dell Venue was actually slightly better because it is lighter and has a larger and more responsive touch screen. Both computers were slightly difficult to view outdoors in bright sunlight. The Dell Venue 8 has an 8 inch screen - there are other Windows tablets with 10.1 inch screens that would give the user some more room for data entry but cost a bit more - $500.
Our conclusion is that a geologist should use both pencil-paper AND an inexpensive computer while in the field. As the soil samples come in, he creates a paper log (takes about 15 minutes). Later, over the course of the day, as he finds free time, he can transcribe this paper log into the computer (takes about 5 to 10 minutes since he isn't examining the soil). By the end of the drilling session, his logs are complete - no logs to do back in the office! This process is much faster for geologists who would otherwise pass their paper logs to data entry staff in the office. Often, their paper logs are difficult to read and the staff doesn't have the knowledge of geology that they do - so the logs are passed back and forth taking an extra 30 to 45 minutes per log.
The geologist could skip the pencil-paper log and enter data directly into a computer, but we don't feel that the 5 to 10 minutes saved is worth the risk of losing the data for a $2000 borehole. The geologist would have to be very careful about saving and backing up files - it's just easier to have a backup paper copy.
Another advantage of transcribing paper logs rather than logging directly is that the geologist can transcribe inside the truck cab (or other protected area). The truck cab provides some shade for making the computer screen easier to read, and it provides protection from dust and moisture. With this protection and the ability to use the computer with clean hands, the geologist can use a consumer grade computer ($250 - $500) rather than a ruggedized one ($2000 - $3500). However, we do recommend purchasing a protective case for a consumer grade computer.
In summary, bringing along an inexpensive field computer to get some data entry done "on the side" can save a geologist a lot of borehole / well logging time back in the office.