Once a very small portion of the mobile computing market, demand for industrial strength, rugged, mobile computers is growing at a rapid rate. Industrial customers are realizing that high repair and replacement costs of non-industrial strength computers, along with the decrease in productivity associated with downtime can greatly decrease profitability.
Every day, more and more vendors claim to have "ruggedized" computers. But how can you tell how rugged a terminal really is? This paper will identify the common specifications used to "describe" the ruggedness of a mobile computer, and clarify what each of these specifications truly mean. The paper will also discuss the design characteristics to look for to determine a product's true capabilities and limitations. Just because a terminal looks rugged does not mean that it is rugged.
A truly rugged industrial device is engineered, from the ground up, to operate in the most extreme hostile environments. The industrial engineering design is not only limited to the external housing, but includes internal components, special coatings, sealants, and other design features allowing computers to be exposed to extreme humidity, dust, temperatures, vibration and shock. Included in the mix is a class of products manufactured explicitly for use in hazardous or explosive environments. Understanding the differences between a truly ruggedized computer and an enhanced commercial design can be a challenging proposition for even the most informed customer.
Customers must rely on the product's specifications to evaluate the amount of ruggedization included in the product's design. However, there is not a "gold-standard" to apply to all mobile computing products. Specifications vary from product to product and market to market. To help standardize the evaluation process there are a number of ratings and standards established by various government agencies, industry organizations, and independent laboratories that allow for a better comparison of a product's industrial ruggedization.
Unfortunately, certain ratings and standards are subject to interpretation, and closer scrutiny of a vendor's claims is often warranted. In certain circumstances it may be important to obtain detailed testing information from the manufacturer to verify the product's ability to operate in certain environments. Understanding an industrial computer's ruggedization specifications can be the most important information when purchasing a ruggedized device. Not understanding these specifications can lead to improper evaluation of a product's performance, and result in a bad purchasing decision that can cost an organization greatly in the long run.