Rugged Technology And The Industries That Most Need It.

Man using a type of rugged technology

Rugged technology and devices include rugged computers, rugged laptops, rugged tablets, rugged smartphones, and more. They have all the functionality of consumer devices but are also designed to withstand extreme conditions.

For the most part, rugged technology has been found primarily in specific applications in certain industries. With rugged devices, “exposure to extreme temperatures, shocks, drops, water, and dust is no longer a reason for device failures in business. As the access to data is crucial for many businesses across industries, from Logistics to Retail and Construction to Emergency Services, rugged devices have become a solution to downtime and device breakages.”

Today, though, rugged technology is making its way into the hands of private consumers. And that’s for a very good reason: because it is tougher, lasts longer, and withstands abuse and rough handling.

So let’s dive in to see what you need to know about rugged technology . . .

What is Rugged Technology?

Rugged technology, also known as tough tech, is “specifically designed to operate reliably in harsh usage environments and conditions, such as strong vibrations, extreme temperatures, and wet or dusty conditions. [It is] designed from inception for the type of rough use typified by these conditions, not just in the external housing but in the internal components and cooling arrangements as well.

“Typical environments for rugged laptops, tablet PCs, and PDAs public safety, field sales, field service, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, construction, transportation/distribution, and the military. They are [also] used in the agricultural industries, and by individuals for outdoor recreation activities.”

That seems straightforward enough, but there are still some misconceptions about these specialized devices floating around. Number one among these is the notion that, say, a rugged laptop or a ruggedized computer is nothing more than a consumer device with a good protective case.

But these devices are in fact “their own class—a special breed of devices created for the toughest, harshest, most rugged working environments.”

Rugged-Device Ratings

Consumer products are typically built on a one-size-fits-all model, with no real effort made to meet minimum industry-standard specifications. Rugged products, on the other hand, are built to meet these standards, as well as to exceed the standards for consumer-grade and even commercial-grade devices. Rigorous testing is the one thing common across all of them.

Still, these devices are not all created equal, and, as a result, there exist device ratings based on “their resiliency against a variety of environmental elements via both lab and field testing. The two most important methods of determining ‘ruggedness’ are the U.S. Department of Defense ‘Test Method Standard for Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests,’ commonly referred to as MIL-STD and the Ingress Protection (IP) rating system. These ratings and standards provide independent and objective criteria with which to grade-specific characteristics of a rugged computer.”

“MIL-STD-810G tests are designed specifically to gauge the performance levels of rugged tablets – and other mobile computers – in a variety of harsh environments. MIL-STD-810G testing ensures that rugged devices can withstand drops, vibrations, crashes, extreme temperatures, differing altitudes, and natural elements such as wind, rain, sand, humidity, and dust.”

IP Rating

Rugged technology devices are also given an IP rating. This rating “denotes the effectiveness of a computer’s rugged casing at preventing solids and liquids from reaching its easily damaged internal parts. These ratings provide device users with an idea of what hazardous environments the devices can handle.”

In order to be considered “fully-rugged,” a device must have a minimum IP rating of IP54. At this rating, a device will be protected against water and dust ingress, thus being able to stand up to most challenges in working environments.

Many industrial settings, though, have harsher conditions than a device with an IP54 rating can effectively stand up to. So for such harsh industrial environments, a rating of IP65 is preferred.

“An IP65 rating will ensure that the device is completely protected against dust contact and ingress. It will also enable the device to withstand the impact of low-pressure water jets projected by a nozzle (6.3 mm) from any direction for at least 15 minutes. This is often more than sufficient for most working conditions.”

For even more extreme conditions, especially those with extreme water pressure, devices with an IP68 rating are called for. These can be submersed below the one-meter-deep level for up to 30 minutes without risking a shutdown.

The Rugged-Technology Difference

rugged technology in a warehouse

So what is it that makes rugged technology rugged?

The Core

“Most consumer devices have aluminum or steel cores, which are moderately sturdy in their own right but will certainly falter under extreme pressure. In contrast, top-performing rugged devices are designed with magnesium alloy cores, which not only are lightweight, but field-proven to withstand incredible pressure and shock from drops, hits, and bumps.”

Displays

These devices also typically have brighter displays with anti-smudge and anti-reflective properties incorporated, as well as heavy-duty glass for extra screen protection. The idea is to allow “easy high-definition viewing of detailed documents and images day or night.”

Antenna Design

A rugged computer, rugged tablet, or rugged mobile device will also be designed with more attention to antenna design and placement. “Those who design mobility solutions for field-service and industrial environments understand that reliable wireless connectivity in dense, remote, and ‘network fringe’ areas is quickly becoming table stakes. Workers need to be able to connect to data and applications everywhere they go.”

Extra Features and Add-ons

Rugged devices also offer additional features that consumer devices typically don’t. “Barcode readers, hot-swappable batteries, fingerprint sensors, and specialized docking mounts are just a few of the industrialized offerings for rugged devices.”

And then there are the accessories and add-ons. “Unlike consumer add-ons, the accessories for rugged devices are key to work performance, as they take the devices from great computers to versatile, all-in-one ecosystems. So are the extensive I/O ports that are built into many rugged devices. While most consumer devices are reducing I/O down to an audio jack and, if you’re lucky, a USB or micro-USB port, many rugged tablets and 2-in-1s are now offering up to eight standard I/O ports, including HDMI-In and True Serial options. That doesn’t include the additional port availability with the accompanying docks.”

Better Components

The components used in the manufacture of rugged technology and devices are of such a quality that the performance of these devices usually far outpaces that of consumer devices. The result is “faster connection speeds for uploading and downloading content and storage capabilities of up to 1 TB. Some rugged devices offer pass-through wireless antenna to support MIMO, WWAN, and GPS simultaneously, and cellular support for frequency bands often required for public safety and other critical applications.”

Where Is Rugged Technology Used?

There about six industries in which rugged technology is used – and is in fact critical. These are . . .

Law Enforcement and First Responders

In life-and-death scenarios, rugged technology devices must be reliable. The possibility of device failure must be completely removed from the picture. And that, of course, is why law-enforcement personnel and first responders rely heavily on rugged technology.

“For those working in public safety, the availability of mission-critical communications and access to real-time data is a necessity for both the worker and the communities they serve. . . . Rugged devices are purpose-built to handle the drops, spills, dust, and extreme temperatures that occur when officers and first responders are on patrol or onsite in an emergency situation.”

Retail Warehousing and Back-office Tasks

These areas are moving toward a blend of brick-and-mortar and online that calls for versatile and rugged mobile devices. “Mobile devices that deliver enterprise-grade performance, enhanced security, flexible form factors, and versatile mounting options help optimize workflows and improve efficiencies for retailers. As a result, they can reduce costs and increase productivity.”

Utilities

People working in the utility sector deal with unexpected outages, “and customers expect dependable responsiveness and minimized restoration time now more than ever before. To meet this demand, companies are adopting rugged mobile devices to decrease the time it takes to recognize, respond to and resolve problems while offering the constant communication customers now expect.” These devices can also withstand the extreme weather conditions workers encounter in the field.

Supply Chain/Logistics

Accurate inventories and on-time delivery are critical in the supply chain and logistics arena. Again, rugged technology devices provide the necessary accuracy and sturdiness. They can hold up adverse warehouse conditions such as wide temperature swings, drops, and just general work abuse.

Oil and Gas

In the oil and gas industry, especially offshore drilling, the devices used absolutely must be rugged. “They must be built to withstand just about anything, including a rig’s harsh environment of salt, chemicals, machinery, and moisture.”

Military

Deployed military personnel depend on rugged laptops and rugged tablets that are “purpose-built with military-grade design.” The work environments range from deserts to jungles and everything in between, and rugged technology provides the necessary “holistic, mission-critical solutions.”

Land Surveying

Land surveying is one of the oldest professions in the world, and rugged technology now plays a large part in this job.  The field crew, who use the tripod, are typically in very poor conditions depending on where they work. These rugged technology devices need to be tough enough to get bumped around while also withstanding the freezing cold and smoldering heat.

land surveying rugged technology

Types of Rugged Devices

There are, then, several industries and occupations that require ruggedized devices capable of withstanding harsh conditions and rough handling. So let’s take a look at the types of devices according to the device level . . .

Semi-rugged

These a just a slight step above consumer devices, simply having the same but enhanced hardware found in commercial, off-the-shelf products. So, basically, the parts are the same except that they have been augmented for a little more ruggedness and better protection.

Fully Rugged

Fully rugged devices “are designed from the inside out to work in the most extreme conditions. Fully rugged devices are durable, resistant to shocks, drops, vibrations, and are waterproof and dustproof. For example, a fully rugged tablet may have a toughened screen, thicker case, and ultra-resistant hard drive.”

Ultra-rugged

Devices in the ultra-rugged category are typically those designed for the military, hence the alternate terms of “military-grade” and “military standard.” These devices are capable of functioning accurately and reliably under the harshest and most treacherous conditions.

What to Look for in a Rugged Device

Now, if you’re in an industry or business that demands what rugged technology offers or just want to have a device you can always rely on, you need to know what to look for in a device. Here, we’ll treat rugged smartphones and the best-rugged smartphone for your situation – since these are the most commonly used rugged devices.

Ruggedness

Of course, a rugged device must be rugged. Make sure your device has “a genuine drop spec and an IP rating to withstand dust and water penetration.”

Power

You also need a device with a big enough battery a good charging strategy to meet your needs. All those features and capabilities require more energy and demand more battery power.

Security

Security is an important concern as well. “Android is now the most popular OS on the planet, so it is open to all kinds of attacks if you don’t look after them. Make sure you have the tools, configurations, and MDM access set up so you can pre-empt issues and deal with them if they occur.”

Device Size

Yes, size matters for rugged technology mobile devices, but bigger isn’t always better. Adequate screen size is important, but that no longer requires a huge, unwieldy device.

Screen Size

When it comes to screen size, though, bigger is indeed better. “In the enterprise market, 5″ seems to be the favorite size. You can do so much more with a larger screen, which means your devices can take on new roles without you having to update or replace them.”

Familiarity

Whether you’re getting rugged technology devices for your business or a rugged device for personal use, they/it should be at least a little familiar in order to avoid a huge learning curve. Training employees is expensive, and learning for your own use is a headache.

Support

No system and no device is absolutely perfect, no matter how rugged it is, so support is important. “Make sure you can get access to the right people and the right levels of service . . . as it’ll save you more time and energy than you could ever imagine!”

When You’re Ready . . .

Motion Computing has been and is one of the top contenders in rugged technology, especially when it comes to the Motion Computing tablet. These enhanced devices “are designed to increase productivity for on-the-go users while providing computing security, power, and versatility.”

If you’re in the market for a rugged laptop, Dell is one of the top choices, and also for a rugged laptop, Lenovo and HP are good choices

To discover more about the best-rugged technology for your needs, check out our in-depth buyer’s guide.

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