GETTING EQUIPPED: How Rugged is Your Rugged Mobile Computer?

When computer manufacturers like Panasonic, Itronix and Xplore Technologies tout their machines as “rugged,” it’s not just an empty marketing term. These computers are specifically designed for the harsh conditions encountered by utility field workers. Magnesium-alloy casings, padded corners and edges, plus specially designed keyboards and touchpads mean that the rugged computer you buy for your field workforce will bear little resemblance to the inexpensive Dell or Gateway you may use at home.

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If you want extra assurance that your investment in mobile computing hardware is going to be able to withstand the cold, dust and shock it will be subjected to in the field, check to see if it has been designed to meet military standards. The designation you’ll most often see is that your mobile computer has been designed to meet MIL STD 810F (military standard 810F), which means it has been tested to hold up to drops, vibration, moisture, dust, temperatures and other extreme conditions. A good description of MIL STD 810F testing can be found on the Panasonic Toughbook website at www.panasonic.com/business/toughbook/df_test.asp.

When researching an investment in mobile computing for your utility company, it is important to note that military standards encompass a broad array of tests. Just because a manufacturer says its computers are designed to military standards, it’s worth checking to find out exactly which standards the machines have been tested to. Manufacturers may be testing their computers to meet the military standard criteria related to drops and vibration, but not humidity, corrosion, rain, etc. Before you make a big investment in mobile computing, talk to a sales rep to find out just how rugged the rugged computer you’re considering really is.

Three relatively new offerings in the rugged mobile computing realm come from Panasonic, Itronix and Xplore Technologies. Each of these new models notes in its specification sheet that it has been tested to MIL STD 810F.

Itronix XR-1

In late summer 2006, Itronix introduced the General Dynamics GoBook XR-1 (pictured at left) with the Intel Core Duo 1.83 GHz processor. The machine weighs just 6.8 pounds and has a small footprint (11.8 inches by 9.65 inches by 1.97 inches). Despite its diminutive size, the XR-1 has been designed to meet MIL STD 810F ratings for drop/shock and vibration, and the IP54 (ingress protection) standard for water and dust. The entire notebook is water tight and features an innovatively designed keyboard that can withstand liquids and abrasive dust and dirt particles. The notebook’s sealed design can even withstand bleach-water submersion and scrub tests, required after exposure to toxic substances. Users also have a choice of a capacitive or resistive touch pad, which can be used in rain or when wearing gloves. For operation in sub-zero weather, the product incorporates standard heaters for the hard drive and display.

Panasonic CF-19 and CF-30

Building on the success of the company’s CF-18 tablet and CF-29 notebook, the new CF-19 and CF-30 Toughbooks from Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. were introduced in October 2006. Both come equipped with Intel Core Duo processors and bright, daylight-readable screens. Both are constructed of magnesium alloy and include shock-mounted screens and hard drives. The units are certified to the MIL STD 810F standard, tested to withstand drops, shocks, vibration and extremes in temperature. In addition, they are sealed and rated at IP54 (ingress protection) level for water and dust resistance. Other certifications, such as UL1604 Class 1/Div. 2, help ensure these units perform safely and reliably in tough conditions.

Xplore iX104C3

With its magnesium housing, shock-mounted hard drive, bumper system and customized gaskets, the new iX104C3 Tablet PC is third-party tested and warranted to MIL STD 810F. The unit is built to function in physically demanding environments and, according to the company, will withstand exposure to vibration, extreme temperatures, moisture, dust or drops to concrete.

Beyond the testing for durability the new Xplore unit boasts a unique security features. A durable fingerprint scanner allows users an added security authentication benefit.

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