Rugged devices are a hugely important tools available to field service organisations to empower their engineers with mobile tools that are designed to survive the rigours of remote working environments. However, for the uninitiated, there can be...
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Nov 06, 2018 • Capacative vs Resistive • Enterprise Mobility • Features • field service • Field Technologies • fit-for-purpose • Hardware • IP ratings • MIL-STD810G • Rugged laptops • Rugged Mobile Device • rugged tablets • Service Management
Rugged devices are a hugely important tools available to field service organisations to empower their engineers with mobile tools that are designed to survive the rigours of remote working environments. However, for the uninitiated, there can be a bewildering amount of terms used by rugged manufacturers (and increasingly their consumer-focused cousin) so let’s take a quick refresher of some of the key language used in the world of rugged...
With no shortage of devices to choose from, deciding what’s best for your service operation is no easy task. Fit-for-purpose should be the starting point for any deployment, say the experts.
Indeed, the first question any company should ask when looking for new devices for their engineers or technicians is “what tasks will the device be used for?”
Mobile devices in field service are mission-critical – they are not just “nice-to-have”, they are the lynchpin of your operations essential to the efficient running of the operation. Ease-of-use of can have a big effect on productivity and user-acceptance – would an integrated barcode scanner, for example, be better than a more fiddly-to-use camera?
"The mobile device is more than your service technician’s new pen and paper; it carries the job schedule, customer details and equipment data..."
Remember, once you’ve made the shift away from paper, there’s no going back – the mobile device is more than your service technician’s new pen and paper; it carries the job schedule, customer details and equipment data.
Your customers will become used to the higher service levels.
So, above all, the devices you equip your field workers with need to be reliable.
Can it survive the technician dropping it? Are the processor and memory up to running several apps at once if that’s required? Is the screen readable in strong light? Will the touchscreen work if it gets wet? Can it last a whole shift without recharging the battery?
Is it Fit-for-purpose?
Almost every rugged device you see will proudly boast the magical code MIL-STD 810G somewhere in the specs but what exactly does it mean and why is it just so important?
Well as you may well have guessed MIL-STD is actually short for Military Standard. In fact, it is an American military standard that although has it’s origins with the US Air Force is now upheld in a tri-service agreement between the US Army, US Navy and US Air force. However, the standard is widely adopted amongst commercial products that need to be able to hold up to rigorous environmental tests.
The G if you were wondering, relates to the current revision of the certification document and we have been at G since 2008.
General Program Guidelines
The first part of the MIL-STD-810G is a set of general guidelines that describes management, engineering, and technical roles in the environmental design and test the tailoring process. It focuses on the process of tailoring design and test criteria to the specific environmental conditions an equipment item is likely to encounter during its service life.
Laboratory test methods
The second element of MIL-STD-810G is focussed on the environmental laboratory test methods to be applied using the test tailoring guidelines described outlined in the general program guidelines.
With the exception of Test Method 528 (Mechanical Vibrations of Shipboard Equipment), these methods are not mandatory, but rather the appropriate method is selected and tailored to generate the most relevant test data possible.
The tests themselves are varied across a range of different environmental stresses which include:
- Temperature ranges
Tested to. Vs. Engineered to
One problem with MIL-STD 810G testing is that it can be very expensive and it’s important to remember that MIL-STD-810 is not a specification per se but a standard. A specification provides for absolute criteria which must be satisfied to “meet the spec”. MIL-STD-810 as a standard provides methods for testing material for use in various environments but provides no absolute environmental limits.
Therefore, some OEMs will skip the whole second part of MIL STD 810G (the actual testing part) yet still claim their devices are engineered to meet MIL-STD 810G standards.
Whilst such devices may well be more than capable of surviving the rigours of your field engineers toughest day, the simple fact is that they haven’t been actually tested to do so.
That said most of the dedicated rugged players within the space such as Janam, Getac, Panasonic and Xplore et al will all have their own internal testing facilities and will also often engage with a third party to validate their findings.
IP environmental ratings along with MIL standards (MIL-STD) are perhaps the most widely recognised yet also perhaps the least fully understood of the standard definitions of what makes a mobile computer or tablet rugged.
What the IP figures mean
IP ratings are defined by International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards and tell you how well devices are sealed against dirt and moisture ingress and the level of protection components have against whatever is thrown at them.
IP ratings have two numbers: the first indicates the degree of protection against dust, dirt and foreign bodies entering the device while the second is about how resistant the device is to the ingress of fluid from drops, sprays and submersion. Ingress protection ratings can be affected by the number of ports on a device and whether they are sealed or open, by keyboard design and a number of other factors.
"If like me, you’ve ever spilt tea or coffee on a computer keyboard, you’ll know that water ingress can be the kiss of death to electronic components.."
For field service, the numbers to look out for on a rugged mobile device are “5” and “6” for dust protection and 4,5,6, or 7 for water or fluid ingress. (In comparison, consumer devices typically have a rating of IP42 or lower although high-end consumer mobile devices are frequently now seen to have IP67 ratings)
Both are important when assessing devices: if like me, you’ve ever spilt tea or coffee on a computer keyboard, you’ll know that water ingress can be the kiss of death to electronic components. Less dramatic but in the long term just as damaging are ingress of dust and dirt particles. They can cause keys to stick and generally penetrate causing damage to components.
While “6” is dust-proof, a “5” rating doesn’t mean the device will prove unreliable, just that it isn’t completely sealed against dust ingress. It’s worth noting, too, that complete sealing against water and dust ingress may increase internal temperatures which in turn might impact on processor performance.
There are more numbers for fluid or water ingress: a “4” rating signals protection from splashes, “5” against water from a nozzle, “6” will cope with more powerful water jets or sprays, while “7” means you can submerge the device in water and it will still survive.
Again, which is best for your operations depends on the working environment – for many field-service environments, a “5” rating and even possibly a ”4 “will be perfectly adequate.
In a world of smartphones and tablets touch-screens have become a universally understood means of interacting with a device.
Whether it is inputting data or simply navigating through an operating system, I would put a hefty wager on the fact that anyone reading this article is both familiar and comfortable with using a touch-screen device, such is the prevalence of the technology today.
Touch-screens are an important, even critical part of the user experience of almost all modern tablets and smartphones. Yet at the same time, the screen is of course the potential Achilles heel and an obvious weak spot in a rugged device. The balance therefore between delivering a screen that is sufficiently capable of withstanding drops and knocks, whilst maintaining high usability, is absolutely critical for a rugged device.
So let's look at some of the various options you may find in differing rugged devices when it comes to the screen and explore exactly what these options actually mean.
Almost certainly the biggest debate when it comes to screen choices in rugged devices is whether capacitive or resistive screens are better suited for the task. But what is the difference between the two?
The older of the two technologies is resistive which relies on pressure to register input. This pressure can be applied by your finger, a stylus or any other object – think of the handheld computers that many delivery companies use, often covered in ink because when the original stylus is lost, the delivery driver often just uses a regular pen to collect a signature instead.
Resistive touch screens consist of two flexible layers with an air gap in between and in order for the touch-screen to register input, you must press on the top layer using a small amount of pressure to make contact with the bottom layer. The touch-screen will then register the precise location of the touch.
Rather than relying on pressure, capacitive touch-screens instead sense conductivity to register input—usually from the skin on your fingertip but also from dedicated styluses.
"The biggest debate when it comes to screen choices in rugged devices is whether capacitive or resistive screens are better suited for the task. But what is the difference between the two?"
Because you don’t need to apply pressure, capacitive touch-screens are more responsive than resistive touch-screens. However, because they work by sensing conductivity, capacitive touch-screens can only be used with objects that have conductive properties, which includes your fingertip (which is ideal), and special styluses designed with a conductive tip.
Initially one of the big advantages of capacitive touch screens was that they enabled multi-finger gestures – perhaps the most obvious example is pinching or stretching a document to zoom in or out. However, resistive touch screens have also supported multi-finger input for about three or four years now also.
The big advantage resistive screens have over their capacitive counterparts is the fact that the operator can still use the devices whilst wearing gloves – as the input is dependent on pressure rather than the electrical current being completed through a conductive material such as a finger.
An additional benefit is that light touch, such as rain landing on the screen, won’t register so the devices are far better to suited to being used in the wet.
Both of these factors are of course particularly useful in a number of field service environments.
However, another key factor for rugged devices is of course reliability and durability and in this respect, capacitive touch screens have the advantage – especially in heavy use applications.
Resistive screens can have a tendency to eventually begin to wear down in frequently used areas. Such areas may be prone to becoming faded and may ultimately even become unresponsive. Also in terms of reliability, if a capacitive touch-screen does happen to become pierced or cracked it is still likely to function – think how many times you have seen someone using a smartphone with a cracked screen?
However, a break anywhere on a resistive touch-screen will often mean that it no longer works.
In terms of field service, this is a potentially huge advantage for capacitive screens as it allows for a field service technician to continue to utilise their device until they can get the screen repaired.
Ultimately, there are many different rugged devices available these days ranging from rugged smart-phone style handhelds through to fully rugged detachable laptops. As we mentioned at the beginning of this feature ensuring the devices you select are fit for purpose is crucial.
In order to do this, we advise getting a real understanding of how your field service engineers and technicians are doing their job - what environments to they work in and what is there workflow. Get them in to give you some input or get out there on some ride-alongs. Because, if you have an understanding of this you will find a device that fits your needs.
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Nov 05, 2018 • Dell • Dell Rugged PC • Enterprise Mobility • Features • field service • field service management • field service technology • Hardware • Latitude 5424 • MIke Libecki • Rahul Mike • rugged • Rugged laptops • Rugged NoteBooks • Rugged PC • video
Check out this excellent showcase of Dell's latest rugged range where NatGeo’s Mike Libecki trades a peak into expedition life for a look at Dell’s Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme and Latitude 5424 and 5420 Rugged notebooks.
Check out this excellent showcase of Dell's latest rugged range where NatGeo’s Mike Libecki trades a peak into expedition life for a look at Dell’s Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme and Latitude 5424 and 5420 Rugged notebooks.
National Geographic adventurer Mike Libecki depends on Dell Rugged PCs to get to the most extreme locations and this great video he takes Rahul Tikoo, VP of Commercial Mobility Computing with him to Utah to give him a taste of expedition life through ascending, rappelling and climbing, whilst Rahul Mike the new Dell Latitude 7424 Rugged Extreme and Latitude 5424 and 5420 Rugged notebooks.
Find out more and check out the full Dell rugged product line here: https://www.dell.com/rugged
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Jul 31, 2018 • Bob Ashenbrenner • Cliff Adams • Features • field service • field service management • Hardware • Mobility solutions • Rugged Computing • Rugged Handhelds • Rugged laptops • rugged tablet • Service Management • Steve Priestly • Xplore
In this excerpt from a recent Field Service News webcast sponsored by rugged computing specialist Xplore Technologies FSN Editor-in-Chief, Kris Oldland is joined by Steve Priestly and Cliff Adams of Xplore and Bob Ashenbrenner of Durable Mobility...
In this excerpt from a recent Field Service News webcast sponsored by rugged computing specialist Xplore Technologies FSN Editor-in-Chief, Kris Oldland is joined by Steve Priestly and Cliff Adams of Xplore and Bob Ashenbrenner of Durable Mobility Technologies as they discuss some of the key questions around device choices field service organisations should be making including asking whether the lines between rugged and consumer are blurring, how to decide which form factor is right for your service technicians and just how often should field service companies be seeking to update the devices that they have deployed within the field.
Want to know more?
The full webcast is available to fieldservicenews.com subscribers and if you are a field service industry practitioner you may qualify for a complimentary industry subscription.
Visit fieldservicenews.com/subscribe to apply now!
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In part one of this exclusive interview with rugged specialist manufacturer Getac's UK president Peter Molyneux we looked at how long we can expect a rugged device to last as well as whether Microsoft could return to power in the mobile arena....
In part one of this exclusive interview with rugged specialist manufacturer Getac's UK president Peter Molyneux we looked at how long we can expect a rugged device to last as well as whether Microsoft could return to power in the mobile arena. Now in the concluding part we look at how the rise of tablets has changed the landscape for rugged devices, whether there is still a future for rugged laptops and why Molyneux thinks that BYOD just won't work...
One of the major changes in mobile computing across the last decade has been the rise of tablets themselves. This has led to a number of Getac’s competitors, perhaps most notably Panasonic appearing to shift focus away from their traditional fare of rugged notebooks and laptops. However, this isn’t the case for Getac.
When pushed on whether there is still a market for the rugged laptops Molyneux reacted with a clear belief that there is still plenty of space in the market for laptops, tablets and of course their lovechild the convertible.
“We are very committed to continue to develop our fully rugged notebook range” he states effusively “The B110, B100 and the X500 all fully rugged and we are continuing to push them”
“We have just won a couple of large projects (with rugged laptops) in Europe but we’re finding that our main competitor are not doing the same. Now that may mean they are focussing on tablets as their primary offering from here on but we are continuing to develop our Android platforms, we will continue to develop our windows 7 and 8 platforms and we will continue to develop our Laptop platforms so we can keep that broadness open.”
“The question may be will we continue to support Win Mobile and ther I’d say probably. But certainly rugged notebooks and rugged tablets of all form factors and both OS’s we will continue to develop” Molyneux added
In fact Field Service News ran a feature earlier this year asking if we were seeing the Death of the Rugged Laptop and our conclusion was that whilst rugged tablets may well become the form of choice, there is still very much a need for rugged laptops especially when large amounts of data input is required. Molyneux echoed these sentiments alos.
“Although you are right to say there is still very much a market for rugged notebooks, tablets have certainly taken some of the fully rugged notebook market. However, the main impact will be on the 3.5” win mobile market. Even in transport logistics they’re thinking of tablets now. Frankly the performance and cost of tablets is much better compared to the older 3.5 inch mobile computer.”
tablets have certainly taken some of the fully rugged notebook market. However, the main impact will be on the 3.5” win mobile market
“Openly speaking I have seen the subject around for the last three years.” opens Molyneux “Maybe it’s because I’m slightly separate from that community but I have yet to come across an actual BYOD project. I do think it is an opportunity but in my mind the reliability, the replacement cycle, the insurance, the security risk I still think there is a lot of unanswered questions.”
He stops for a moment as if confirming his thought process before continuing “When you are looking at mainstream IT in the field, I think there could be a need for something in perhaps the lower demand area, something running on a HTML5 basis where someone just needs to see something…” he says as he ponders the concept a moment before reaffirming his initial thoughts “…but in a critical working environment like delivering gas, water, electricity or delivering facilities management in a nuclear production plant I can’t see how BYOD can fit.”
“I’m open to be told I’m wrong,” he continues “But I’ve seen this approach being presented and reviewed and a full BYOD deployment is a very tough call for an IT infrastructure.” He adds.
However, whilst BYOD might not be something Molyneux sees happening on a major scale anytime school there is a related trend that he does think we may see.
“Coming from the other side, we are hearing from a customer perspective, especially from local government that they are looking to roll out devices to their workforce that can be used for both business and pleasure.”
“There are many benefits to this…” he continues “To cite an old statistic I heard when Blackberry first released launched, you would see an increase in 25% in productivity per user beause they takes the device home and work. It’s true and we all fell for that one! Have a Blackberry and work more and now it’s common practice to be at home working tapping away whether it’s on your iPhone or a rugged computer. Look at the way Microsoft are marketing their devices now – we all do it these days we all take our work home”
“Also of course another additional soft benefit is that is that the device is yours so you look after it more. Which is another major positive for businesses and one which I don’t think would be particularly hard to map in terms of seeing a tangible return on investment.”
So whilst Molyeux doesn’t see a future for BYOD he does see an exciting prospect in a similar concept but in reverse.
“Absolutely – reverse BYOD is definitely on the cards” he agrees “we just need to put our heads together to think of a decent new acronym now"
In part one this two part feature we looked at the how tablets are coming to the fore as sales of rugged laptops decline in the consumer markets and whether this trend is mirrored in field service industries as well. In part two we explore the ...
In part one this two part feature we looked at the how tablets are coming to the fore as sales of rugged laptops decline in the consumer markets and whether this trend is mirrored in field service industries as well. In part two we explore the impact of the BYOD trend on companies purchasing rugged laptops, why tablets are perfect for ruggedistation and the solution for those field service technicians that require high data input levels.
Is BYOD a threat to rugged laptops?
A major factor to consider in the decline of rugged laptops is the BYOD trend that is becoming more common in industry.
Being led by the growth in high powerful, accessible mobile consumer devices, BYOD takes advantage of the power of personal devices such as smartphones and the way almost all applications are now delivered via the internet. The combination of improved processing power in smaller devices, web based systems and user familiarity have seen a huge amount of companies move towards using device agnostic applications that can be placed on field workers own devices.
This again has given yet another reason for companies with mobile workers to shy away from purchasing laptops for their field staff – why bother when the workers themselves are able to provide the hardware necessary to fulfil their duties themselves?
But there are some tough environments out there
But what about more extreme environments where fully rugged devices are required?
Well the fact that tablets (and indeed smart phones) are a single unit does make them that much more robust and of course this also lends them to ruggedisation more naturally also. Whether it is simply buying rugged protective cases for more standard devices such as the apple iPad or purpose built rugged tablets from makers such as Motion, Getac or Handheld, powerful, portable devices are available that are designed to withstand a wide range of environmental conditions.
Whilst most specialist manufactures do still produce both rugged laptops and rugged tablets there does seem to be a case for field service companies following the consumer trend.
Cawsey’s Handheld are one such manufacturer seeing the trend mirrored in their own sales.
“We are certainly seeing a move from keyboard based devices like traditional laptop form factors to non-keyboard/touchscreen input devices across the board, particularly in Field Service projects.”
Adding further insight Cawsey continued
“Data collected in the field, as opposed to the data sent to the field tech, is less therefore there is no need for a bulky data input intensive device and field service data can be added through photos, barcode or RFID scans along with data input via pull down menus”
However, there is still one area in which the laptop outshines both smartphones and tablets. That is when large amounts of data input is required. Reflecting on this Cawsey adds
“Bottom line is that if you have a data input hungry workflow or application then you can’t beat a keyboard for efficient mass input of data”
So whilst tablets may be becoming the optimal choice for many field service companies there are still going to be some companies who will need their field technicians to have the functionality of a laptop.
Making the conversion
In this instance the perfect solution is the hybrid/convertible device.
Such devices have a tablet top-half with a (sometimes detachable) keyboard bottom-half. Whilst heavier than standard tablets they have the major benefit of keyboard input.
However, they do often have a common weakness. Typically, the base of a convertible attaches to the display at a single joint called a swivel hinge or rotating hinge. This common design element creates a physical point of weakness which is of course unacceptable in tougher field environments.
However, as with laptops and tablets there are specialist solutions available. The Panasonic Toughbook 19, for example, is advertised as a more durable convertible notebook. The HP EliteBook 2760p convertible notebook uses a reinforced hinge that protrudes slightly from the rear of the unit.
Whilst it is seemingly inevitable that smartphones and tablets will continue to become the primary sources of mobile computing in the field service industry it is these convertible devices that will ultimately see traditional laptops become a thing of the past.
In the first part of the this two part series we explore why tablets are becoming the mobile computing option of choice as sales of rugged laptops decline in the consumer markets and if this trend is mirrored in field service industries as...
In the first part of the this two part series we explore why tablets are becoming the mobile computing option of choice as sales of rugged laptops decline in the consumer markets and if this trend is mirrored in field service industries as well...
At first glance you would be mistaken for thinking that Apple invented the whole tablet industry when they brought the first generation iPad to the market just four years ago. However, whilst as with the iphone Steve Jobs’ and Co. weren’t so much the originators of this exciting new technology, they sure as hell were the ones that perfected it and brought the tablet computer into the mainstream.
In fact at the time of the release of the first iPad the Wall Street Journal went as far as to describe the device as being a “laptop killer”. So four years on, with the tablet revolution at full charge are we seeing the final days of the laptop?
And what about in the more demanding domain of field service where rugged laptops have been the solution for so long?
Processing power: Rugged Tablets now matching rugged laptops
One of the biggest barriers to tablet computing in both the consumer and commercial environments has always been processing power. However, within the last five years we have seen a rise in computational power within tablets. Whereas not so long go we may have faced a decision to opt for the portability and mobility of a tablet or the greater capabilities of a laptop. This isn’t the case today.
Motion Computing’s UK Head, Ian Davies concurs with this assertion. Davies states:
“The processing power of tablet PCs is no longer an issue in most discussions. Previously, some tablet users did have to decide between the ease of use, ruggedisation and mobility offered by tablets, versus the processing power and speed of rugged laptops, but no more.”
Davies is certainly well placed to comment as Motion are one of the leading providers of rugged tablets including the distinctive looking F5te.
The tablet, having been designed with field service in mind, is easily identified by its integrated carry handle, but it is what is inside that counts. Packing an impressive 8gb of RAM and with the option of a powerful i7 processor there is plenty of processing power available to match all but the very highest spec rugged laptops.
Consumerisation: The public embrace tablet computing
Another major factor in the rise of tablets within the workplace is the consumerisation of technology. With smartphones and tablets becoming commonplace within homes across the globe it is natural for organisations to harness this familiarity with the devices to ensure the investment in technology leads to improved productivity in the workforce.
Specialist hardware manufacturer Handheld UK’s Managing Director, Dave Cawsey confirms this saying
“Users are looking for the same/close to or similar feel of retail devices (IPad, Android and WIN 8 Tablets) they have at home in the work place, most IT departments are savvy of this connection and look to make the transition as ‘user’ friendly as possible to maximise workforce acceptance of a new system/device”
Within the consumer sector the trend is clear, tablets are on the rise.
Leading technology research house Gartner identified that large numbers of consumers are switching across to tablets as their main computer, and this is a trend that is set to continue rather than being a passing fad according to their research.
Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner commented
“While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device”
Indeed Gartner state that 116 million tablets were sold in 2012, with circa 197 million tablets being sold in 2013.
They predict sales for 2014 will rise to 266 million and by 2017 they predict that this will rise to nearly half a billion.
The same report predicts a different future for laptops however, with laptop sales showing a year on year decline from 350 million in 2012 to 339 million in 2013. A similar trend is highly likely within the more specialised niche of rugged laptops.
Whilst some experts have tried to attempt to align this declining trend with the failure of Windows 8 to emulate the accessibility and functionality of both Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems, the added mobility of tablet devices versus that of both regular and rugged laptops can not be overlooked.
Also an added benefit is that as tablet devices comprise of a solid unit, rather than rugged laptops, which no matter how well built still have a slight weakness at the joint between the screen and keyboard, are naturally more robust.
Of course the combination of being both more robust and more portable than laptops makes tablets and smart phones a perfect choice for field service, so a shift towards away from rugged laptops and towards rugged tablets is certainly on the cards.
Look out for the second part of this feature where we examine the impact of the BYOD trend on companies purchasing rugged laptops, why tablets are perfect for ruggedistation and the solution for those field service technicians that require high data input levels.